Defense minister nominee says he does not advocate scrapping 2018 inter-Korean military deal

SEOUL-- Defense Minister nominee Lee Jong-sup has said he does not advocate scrapping a 2018 inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement, a document showed Wednesday.

In written answers to lawmakers' questions, Lee said he instead plans to verify whether the terms of the agreement are being implemented faithfully to meet its aim of reducing tensions and building confidence between North and South Korea.

"I am not of the position that the Sept. 19 South-North military agreement should be scrapped," he said in the answers submitted to Democratic Party Rep. Min Hong-chul, chairman of the parliamentary defense committee, ahead of his confirmation hearing.

The agreement was signed after an inter-Korean summit in 2018 and calls for establishing buffer zones in the ground, sea and air to preclude hostilities and prevent accidental clashes.

Lee, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also asked whether North Korea should be described as South Korea's "main enemy" in its defense policy paper, a label it has used sporadically since 1995.

"North Korea should be regarded as an enemy as long as it continues its various forms of provocations and causes anxiety among our people," he answered. "On the question of how to describe (North Korea) in the defense white paper, I will decide carefully."

Lee said he would choose to inherit three defense and North Korea policies from the outgoing Moon Jae-in administration: efforts to reduce tensions with North Korea, nurture the defense industry and return the remains of South Korean and American troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.

The nominee cited the suspension of large-scale South Korea-U.S. field maneuvers as an area that needs improvement, along with the allies' limited cooperation against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.

On deploying additional units of the U.S. THAAD antimissile system in the country, Lee acknowledged the need to establish a multi-layered missile defense system in the capital area to effectively respond to North Korea's missile threats.

However, he said he will compare additional THAAD deployments with the early development of the homegrown long-range surface-to-air missile, or L-SAM II, interception system in terms of their cost, effectiveness and timeline for possible deployment.

The nominee expressed a cautious stance on exempting K-pop group BTS from mandatory military service.

"We have to take into consideration fairness in fulfilling the duty of military service and the decline in military service resources," he said.

Source: Yonhap News Agency