South Korea has proposed talks to take back wartime control of its military from the United States, the president’s office said Wednesday.
South Korea transferred control of its forces to the U.S.-led U.N. command in 1950 that helped the country repel invading communists from the North during the Korean War.
The conflict ended in a 1953 truce, but control over the South’s forces remained with an American general as chief of the U.N. command, or the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.
In 1994, South Korea regained peacetime control of its military, but the chief of U.S. forces in South Korea is still able to take control during wartime.
About 32,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against threats from the North, but the numbers are set to decline to about 24,500 in coming years as part of Washington’s worldwide redeployment of its forces. About 5,000 of the troops have already left in recent years, many deployed to Iraq.
In his Armed Forces Day speech early this month, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said the country’s armed forces will develop into a “self-reliant military that has its own operational control.”
On Wednesday, Roh’s spokesman, Kim Man-soo, said Seoul “raised the issue of discussing wartime operational control” during a defense officials’ meeting with U.S. officials last month.
Kim said there had not yet been a U.S. response.
The spokesman added that the two countries have been conducting a joint study on “relations of the South Korea-U.S. combined command” since January of last year.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the study’s outcome was supposed to be presented at this year’s annual defense chiefs’ talks between the two countries, scheduled Oct. 21 in Seoul. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is expected to travel to South Korea for the talks and meet his South Korean counterpart Yoon Kwang-ung.