His remarks show a gap between the two allies on the issue, as South Korea’s Defense Minister Suh Wook called for a prompt transfer during his meeting with Esper in Washington on Wednesday.
“By assessing together South Korea-U.S. efforts for the OPCON transfer and discussing plans, we will do utmost to fulfill the conditions for the OPCON transfer at an early stage.”
In their joint releases, the two sides said they have discussed the way forward for the wartime OPCON transition to the Future Combined Forces Command, including the Full Operational Capability certification.
Esper also said the U.S. would welcome increased defense spending by South Korea, saying the two sides must find a more equitable means of sharing the costs so it doesn’t fall unequally on American taxpayers.
The defense cost-sharing negotiations with Seoul have been stalled since Washington has been demanding a sharp increase in the amount Seoul pays.
Unlike in last year’s joint releases, there was no mention of the U.S. commitment to maintaining its troop levels in South Korea.
Also, a joint press conference scheduled after the meeting was canceled upon request by Washington.
During the meeting, the U.S. defense chief also touched upon the security issue in the Indo-Pacific region, apparently targeting the rise of China.
Esper also said the U.S. remains committed to the security of South Korea, saying North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain a serious threat to the security of the region and the world.
Yoon Jung-min, Arirang News.