South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin on Thursday said he believed the United States is leaning toward granting a request to delay plans to give Seoul back military authority over its own troops during wartime, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
Washington has maintained wartime command over both U.S. and South Korean troops on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War. For years, the two nations have been in talks on preparing the South to take back wartime military authority.
In private remarks to lawmakers, Kim based this assessment on the fact that a top U.S. government official leaked to journalists the news about the defense chief's request for the postponement. Were Washington disinclined to grant the request, it probably would not have shared the information with the media, a South Korean legislator summarized Kim as saying.
Presently, South Korea is slated to assume military operational command of its troops back from the U.S. military by December 2015. Kim requested a delay in that transfer out of concerns about the rising threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program and because more time is required to strengthen the South Korean military's fighting and intelligence capabilities, according to informed sources.
Kim said he anticipates hearing an answer from Washington on the delay request during a bilateral meeting in October.
Some South Korean hard-liners and former high-ranking military officers have suggested that postponing the wartime command transfer would send a bad message to North Korea.