S.Korea, US officials hold talks on Korean Peninsula

South Korea's Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook held talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin here on Thursday.(pic credit: twitter.com/SecBlinken )

Seoul, (Asian independent)┬áDefence and Foreign Ministers of South Korea and the US held the so-called “2+2” talks here on Thursday about the Korean Peninsula and regional issues.

The meeting, the first held since October 2016, was attended by Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defence Minister Suh Wook of South Korea, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, reports Xinhua news agency.

A joint statement, released after the meeting, said the two sides reaffirmed that the South Korea-US alliance serves as the “linchpin of peace, security and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region”.

The two sides also reaffirmed a mutual commitment to the defence of South Korea and to the strengthening of the bilateral combined defence posture, consistent with the South Korea-US Mutual Defense Treaty.

Following the meeting, chief negotiators from the two allies inked a tentative deal on the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a South Korea-US pact to share the upkeep cost for about 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, with the observation of the four ministers.

The SMA, requiring a respective internal process, such as parliamentary approval, to be formally signed, was reached earlier this month in Washington.

Under the deal that will last until 2025, South Korea will raise its burden to share the military cost in accordance with the growth rate of the country’s annual defence budget.

The “2+2” meeting statement said the SMA is a symbol of the shared commitment to the South Korea-US alliance.

The statement repeated the two sides’ firm commitment to the conditions-based transfer of the wartime operational control of South Korean forces from the US, to which Seoul and Washington agreed in 2006.

South Korea’s wartime command was handed over to the US forces after the 1950-53 Korean War broke out.

South Korea won back its peacetime operational control in 1994.

The top officials emphasised in the statement that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile issues were a priority for the alliance, reaffirming a shared commitment to address and resolve them.

They also affirmed the importance of South Korea-US-Japan trilateral cooperation, pledging to continue promoting mutually-beneficial, forward-looking cooperation to promote peace, security and prosperity in the region.

The statement reiterated the resolve of the two sides to continue to work together to create “a free and open Indo-Pacific region” through cooperation with South Korea’s New Southern Policy.

Blinken and Austin arrived here Wednesday after visiting Japan on the first cabinet-level overseas trip by US President Joe Biden’s administration members.

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