By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 16, 2010 " Sending North Korea a strong message of deterrence and underscoring the strength of the U.S.-South Korean alliance are key aims of an upcoming visit to South Korea by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Pentagon officials said here yesterday.
Gates leaves this weekend for a visit that will include high-level talks with South Korean officials and a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet with their South Korean counterparts in the first 2-plus-2 Talks " between the two nations. Among other topics, Morrell said, they will discuss upcoming military exercises involving U.S. and South Korean forces.
The visit and the discussion of military exercises come as world reaction continues to North Korea`s March 26 sinking of the frigate Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.
There are a number of messages that we`re trying to send, " a senior Defense Department official speaking on background said. We`re trying to send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea, which we hope will have an effect of impressing upon them that they need to reconsider the sort of behavior they`ve been engaged in, including the Cheonan [incident]. We`re also seeking to work with [South Korea] to increase and enhance the alliance`s capabilities -- readiness, flexibility and our operational capacity. So I think there`s a real purpose to these exercises. "
Also on the agenda for the talks is the transfer of wartime operational control of forces on the Korean peninsula to the South Korean military by December 2015. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced a delay in that transfer " originally scheduled for April 2012 " after they met during June`s G-20 Summit in Toronto.
This gives us appropriate time " within the existing security context to do this right, " Obama said in Toronto, because this alliance is the linchpin of not only security for the Republic of Korea and the United States, but also for the Pacific as a whole. "
The senior defense official explained that the new target date allows time to synchronize all of the different moving pieces " of the operational control transfer.
If we had gone forward with the April 2012 date, [South Korea] would have been fully militarily prepared to take over wartime operational control at that point, " the official said. But we have an opportunity to do an even better job, and to make sure that all of the different pieces that are associated with the [operational control] transition and with our security and defense relationship are locked up. "
With both Gates and Clinton on hand to meet with their South Korean counterparts, the official added, the format provides for high-level discussions of not only the military alliance, but also the diplomatic and economic relationships between the two countries.