By Yeganeh Torbati
SEOUL (Reuters) - The U.S. and South Korean defense chiefs met in Seoul on Monday in an annual review of their bilateral ties, and to discuss operational command of their joint forces in case tensions with North Korea escalate into a war.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter's consultations with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo come two months after North and South Korea resolved a military standoff that had threatened to escalate into live conflict.
Besides fleshing out conditions for transferring wartime command of their overall combined forces, the talks will also include cyber defense and the trilateral relationship between the United States, South Korea, and Japan, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters prior to the meeting.
The United States, which has around 28,500 military personnel stationed in South Korea, agreed last year to delay a shift of command of their overall combined forces to South Korea in case of a war until Seoul has better capabilities to counter the kinds of nuclear weapons and missile threats posed by the North.
Conditions for the transfer would include better intelligence "and other things that would make the transition of operational control to the South Koreans have no effect except a strengthening effect on our ability to respond to aggressions," Carter told reporters on Sunday. "I hope we make a lot of progress on that over the next day."
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and head of U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris will also join the discussions.
The United States and South Korea were also set to review the recent crisis with the North, in which a landmine explosion injuring two South Korean soldiers, the South’s broadcast of anti-Pyongyang propaganda, and an exchange of artillery fire across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) ratcheted up tensions.
North Korea denies planting the landmines, but it issued a rare statement of regret for the South Korean soldiers’ injuries. North and South Korea remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War was ended only by a truce.
Carter visited the DMZ on Sunday shortly after landing at Osan Air Base south of Seoul. He and Han are set to hold a press conference with reporters on Monday.
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)