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US, S. Korea Finalize Agreement For Transfer of Wartime Command

South Korea is a step closer to having independent control over its military forces in war. Seoul and Washington have finalized a plan giving South Korea command over its forces in the event of a war with North Korea. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, the plan changes a military structure that has been in place since the 1950s.

U.S. and South Korean military leaders finalized plans Thursday for a watershed shift in the two countries' security relationship. The plan gives South Korea full command of its forces by 2012.

About 28,000 U.S. forces are stationed here to help deter a repeat of North Korea's 1950 surprise attack. Under a policy that dates back to the Korean War, if fighting resumed, U.S. commanders would control not only their own forces, but also South Korea's military.

David Oten, spokesman for United States Forces in Korea, says there will be a five-year transitional period before returning full control to the Republic of Korea - South Korea's official name.

"When the transition is complete, the result will be two complementary … coordinated commands with the Republic of Korea as the supported nation and the U.S. as a supporting nation," Oten said.

During the Korean War, the U.S. led United Nations forces against North Korea and its ally, China. In 1953, an armistice halted fighting.

The U.S. military retained wartime control over South Korean forces as the nation rebuilt itself into an economic powerhouse.

South Korea and the United States have been negotiating details of the control transfer for more than a year. Both sides say it reflects a new strategic vision of South Korea as a successful nation that deserves autonomy over all its own affairs.

South Korea's relations with North Korea have dramatically changed since the two sides held a historic 2000 summit, with more regular contact. North Korea has always condemned the U.S. military presence on the peninsula. Many South Korean analysts say a more independent security relationship with the U.S. may give Seoul a stronger hand in dealing with the North.