Yoon holds first meeting with USFK chief since inauguration

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol shakes hands with U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Paul LaCamer at Camp Humphreys, the U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, in this April 7 file photo. President Yoon had a closed meeting with him and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg at the presidential office Tuesday, an official said Thursday. Newsis

South Korea, US reinforce military ties amid rising tensions in region

By Jung Min-ho

President Yoon Suk-yeol had a closed meeting with U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Paul LaCamera at the presidential office, Tuesday, in the first talks between the two since he was inaugurated on May 10, a top-ranking official told The Korea Times.

"Issues such as the security situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula and Seoul-Washington (military) cooperation were discussed in the meeting," an official familiar with the talks said on Thursday.

It was Yoon's second meeting with LaCamera, 58, who serves also as the commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command. Yoon met him for the first time on April 7 as president-elect at Camp Humphreys, the U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.

During the 90-minute meeting in Seoul, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Kim Seung-kyum, National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg were also present.

The purpose of the talks was to coordinate defense efforts and boost military morale ahead of the joint Ulchi Focus Shield exercise (Aug. 22 to Sept. 1), a JCS official said. It will be the largest combined military training exercise between the two countries since 2018, when U.S. former President Donald Trump suspended the joint exercises.

This comes as tensions are rising in and around the Korean Peninsula, with Pyongyang set to conduct its seventh nuclear weapons test and Beijing ratcheting up military pressure on the Taiwan Strait following U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent visit to the island.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, the ministry's spokesman, Moon Hong-sik, said the military was prepared to respond to the North's possible provocation during and after the upcoming exercise, a day after Minister Lee told all high-ranking officers to stay alert.

Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister, speaks during a meeting in Pyongyang, Wednesday, in this photo released Thursday by the official Korean Central News Agency. Yonhap

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported the same day that Kim Yo-jong, the sister of leader Kim Jong-un, reiterated the regime's hostility toward the Yoon government, blaming leaflets from the South for the North's COVID-19 outbreak, referring to such activities as a "crime against humanity," and warning of retaliation.

"(South Korean) puppets are still thrusting leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We must counter it toughly," she said. "We have already considered various counteraction plans but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one"

Her bellicose rhetoric signals provocative acts coming soon and confrontational inter-Korean relations afterward, said Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

"Her remarks, which came after Kim Jong-un's criticism of the Yoon government two weeks ago, set the guidelines for all North Korean officials," he said.

Some experts, including Hong, told The Korea Times that the most likely form of provocation would be short-range missile launches rather than a test of nuclear arsenals or intercontinental ballistic missiles, which would increase international pressure on China, its most critical ally, ahead of a major political event. At the National Congress of the Communist Party of China later this year, President Xi Jinping seeks to secure a precedent-defying third term in power.

Jung Min-ho mj6c2@koreatimes.co.kr

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