The United States and South Korea have agreed to dissolve their joint command in Seoul by 2012, giving South Korea control of its own military forces in case of war. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon the agreement was announced after a meeting between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his South Korean counterpart Kim Jang Soo.
According to a written statement, Secretary Gates and Minister Kim agreed to dissolve the joint command on April 17, 2012, three years later than the United States had proposed.
Officials say South Korea's government was not sure its forces would be ready to take on the additional responsibility any sooner.
Under the current arrangement, the two armies are separately commanded in peace time. But if a conflict broke out with North Korea, the U.S. commander would take full operational control.
Under Friday's agreement, the South Koreans would retain control of their military, with U.S. forces operating in support.
The agreement says the two countries will work out a detailed plan, or "road map," for the transition later this year, will hold exercises and make various preliminary moves in the coming years and will conduct an exercise to demonstrate the new system can work shortly before it goes into effect.
There is already an agreement in place to reduce the U.S. troop level in South Korea to 25,000 by next year, and a U.S. official says there has been no discussion of further reductions as a result of Friday's agreement. The U.S. troop level is already down to 28,000.
According to the news release, Secretary Gates and Minister Kim also agreed to accelerate the relocation of U.S. military units out of their base in central Seoul to a facility farther south, in order to return the valuable land to the South Korean government as soon as possible. No specific dates were set.
The last time the top U.S. and South Korean defense officials met, in October, it was less than two weeks after North Korea's nuclear test. At that time, there was some disagreement about the annual restatement of the U.S. commitment to protect South Korea by using nuclear weapons, if necessary.
Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the commitment was as strong as ever, but his South Korean counterpart, Yoon Kwang Ung, said he was seeking some different wording. There was no mention of that issue after this meeting.