(ATTN: ADDS more details in last 10 paras)
By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, Nov. 14 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. military chief vowed Thursday to use "the full range of U.S. military capabilities" to defend South Korea as the allies held annual talks between their Joint Chiefs of Staff chairmen, the two sides said.
U.S. JCS Chairman Gen. Mark Milley "reiterated the United States' firm and unwavering commitments to the Republic of Korea and its continued commitment to providing extended deterrence," a joint statement said after the 44th Military Committee Meeting (MCM) between Milley and his South Korean counterpart, Gen. Park Han-ki.
"He affirmed that the U.S. remains prepared to respond to any attack on the Korean Peninsula, using the full range of U.S. military capabilities," the statement said.
During the meeting, the two sides received updates on the security situation on the Korean peninsula and in the region, and discussed measures to strengthen their defense posture, they said, adding that the two chairmen recognized the importance of such talks "during this critical time" to demonstrate "the strength and credibility of the military alliance."
The meeting took place at a time when North Korea has fired missiles amid little progress in its denuclearization negotiations with the U.S. The communist country launched short-range projectiles, including ballistic missiles, 11 times so far this year, and launched a new version of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Oct. 2.
The two commanders also "acknowledged the critical nature of multinational partnerships and agreed to further strengthen efforts for regional peace and stability," the statement said.
The multilateral partnership could indicate the trilateral security cooperation involving Japan, which has drawn attention as the intelligence-sharing pact between Seoul and Tokyo is set to expire on Nov. 23.
In August, South Korea announced its decision to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which was signed in 2016, following Japan's export curbs amid a row over wartime forced labor.
The U.S. has urged Seoul to reconsider the decision, as it sees the pact as a key mechanism for trilateral security cooperation with its two allies in Northeast Asia and beyond in the context of an increasingly assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Also on the table was "the efficient transition" of wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington to Seoul, according to the statement.
During Thursday's meeting, the two sides reviewed the results of the initial operational capability (IOC) test for the OPCON transition, which was conducted by the allies during their combined exercise in August. The exercise was to verify whether Seoul is on course to meet the conditions for the transition.
The conditions for the transfer are Seoul's capability to lead the allies' combined defense mechanism, its capacity for initial responses to the North's nuclear and missile threats and a stable security environment on the peninsula and in the region.
The MCM is held every year before the defense ministers of the two countries hold the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM). This year's SCM is planned for Friday.