The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States have reaffirmed their commitment to closely coordinating to support last year's inter-Korean military accord aimed at reducing border tensions and building trust, their offices said.
During their talks in Washington on Monday, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan also reiterated their will to closely cooperate to expedite the fulfillment of conditions needed for Washington's envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) to Seoul.
Jeong and Shanahan met face to face for the first time since the latter took the Pentagon post in January.
"The secretary and the minister assessed that implementation of the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) has contributed to the easing of military tension and confidence building on the Korean Peninsula," Seoul's defense ministry and the Pentagon said in a press release.
The Koreas' defense chiefs signed the CMA at the close of the third summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang last September. It entails a series of trust-building and arms control measures under a broader scheme to halt all hostile acts against each other.
Jeong and Shanahan underscored their will to closely cooperate to further reinforce the alliance through the "synchronized" efforts of their militaries amid ongoing peace efforts with North Korea.
"The secretary and minister affirmed that the U.S.-ROK Alliance is 'ironclad' and ready to face an evolving security environment," the press release reads.
"The two sides reaffirmed the commitment to maintain an unwavering combined readiness posture while continuing to support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula," it added.
Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, gave the defense chiefs an evaluation of the allies' recently revised exercise, saying that they have strengthened the militaries' combined readiness and contributed to the groundwork for the OPCON transfer.
Abrams was referring to the recently concluded Dong Maeng command post exercise that replaced the springtime Key Resolve exercise. Dong Maeng is the Korean word for alliance.
Jeong and Shanahan also agreed to work toward initial operational capability (IOC) certification of a South Korea-led combined defense posture later this year, and committed to stay in close consultation, the press release said.
Seoul and Washington have been pushing for the conditions-based OPCON transfer after which the former will lead wartime operations with the latter playing a supporting role.
Following the IOC certification slated for this summer, the two sides are expected to verify Seoul's full operational and mission capabilities in the following years.
Before their talks, Shanahan said that the allies learned "lessons" from the Dong Maeng exercise and will look to apply them to future drills.
"Our teams play a vital role in support of diplomacy," Shanahan said.
The recent exercise was "very successful," he said, but, "We've also learned about improvements we can make in our fall exercises."
Jeong echoed the assessment that the drill concluded "successfully" and added that it served as a "useful" opportunity to confirm the allies' firm defense posture.
Asked by a reporter whether he shares the concerns that scaling back exercises could hurt readiness, Shanahan disagreed that they are being scaled back.
"I think we're building capability," he said. "We want to make sure that there are no gaps, that we continue to build on these exercises. We're going to talk about the September exercises and the lessons learned from these ones in March."
He was also asked whether the U.S. plans to ask South Korea to pay for the joint use of a U.S.-controlled wartime command bunker in South Korea known as CP Tango. He responded that those discussions aren't on Monday's agenda.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is due to travel to Washington to meet U.S. President Donald Trump on April 11.(Yonhap)