U.S., S.Korea to update war plans while urging diplomacy with N.Korea


FILE PHOTO: U.S. soldiers wait for a speech by U.S. President Donald Trump (not pictured) as he meets U.S. troops based in Osan Air Base, South Korea June 30, 2019. Ed Jones/Pool via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) -The military chiefs of the United States and South Korea said on Thursday they plan to update contingency war plans and review their combined military command while urging North Korea to return to diplomacy.

North Korea's missile and weapons developments are increasingly destabilising for regional security, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said after talks with his South Korean counterpart, Suh Wook.

Austin and U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were in Seoul for the first such annual military talks with South Korean officials since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January, and the last before South Korean President Moon Jae-in leaves office in May.

North Korea has continued to rebuff U.S. entreaties for diplomacy since Biden took over from Donald Trump, who had three summits with leader Kim Jong Un.

The United States calls on the North to engage in dialogue, Austin told a news conference, saying diplomacy is the best approach to pursue with North Korea, backed up by a credible deterrent.

The changing security environment prompted the United States and South Korea to agree to update longstanding operational planning for a potential conflict with North Korea, as well as review their combined military command, Suh said.

The United States stations around 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice but not a peace treaty.

Currently, the United States would command those troops in the event of war, but South Korea has been seeking to gain "operational control" (OPCON).

Suh said the two sides made progress on meeting conditions for OPCON transfer to South Korea.

The United States has pledged to maintain the current level of U.S. troops in South Korea, he added.

This week the Pentagon released a global posture review that calls for additional cooperation with allies and partners to deter “potential Chinese military aggression and threats from North Korea," including a previously announced decision to permanently base an attack helicopter squadron and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Phil Stewart; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Stephen Coates)

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