The United States has proposed setting up a detailed action plan in case of the collapse of the North Korean regime under Kim Jong-il, a move Seoul once rejected out of fear that it would provoke Pyongyang.
Yonhap News reported that the proposal came at a recent meeting between the heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea and the United States, known as the Military Committee Meeting (MCM), quoting anonymous sources.
The two allies tried to come up with a similar plan several years ago, but only ended up agreeing on a conceptual plan, known as Contingency Plan 5029, as Seoul expressed concern that U.S. involvement in such an event could infringe upon its sovereignty.
"The U.S. side proposed the countries develop CONPLAN 5029 into an operational plan at the MCM," the source was quoted as saying. The annual meeting of military chiefs was held in Washington on Oct. 16.
The U.S. proposal was then reported to the countries' top defense officials, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, during their annual ministerial talks, known as the Security Consultative Meeting, in Washington the following day, according to the source.
Seoul and Washington have a separate operational plan, known as OPLAN 5027, which details various actions for the combined forces of South Korea and the United States in the event of a North Korean invasion.
Reports that the reclusive North Korean leader suffered a stroke in early August led to a sense of urgency among officials for the need to further develop the current contingency plan 5029.
Seoul, however, remained lukewarm to the idea mainly out of fear it could unnecessarily provoke the North, where the personality cult surrounding Kim Jong-il and his late father and founder of the country Kim Il-sung form the basis of the state's ruling ideology.
The South Korean defense minister said in a joint press conference following his meeting with Gates that the two allies have reached an agreement on what he called a "basic principle" on the need to have shared plans.