SEOUL, July 12 (Xinhua) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday the government's decision to delay the scheduled handover of Seoul's wartime operational command from Washington back to Seoul was an autonomous one.
In a biweekly radio speech to the public, Lee said "Some people are voicing criticism over the adjustment of the transfer, stressing the importance of autonomous national defense...However, the rescheduling constitutes a choice that is substantive and autonomous in nature."
"The issue must be understood within the larger context of security of East Asia and the world as a whole," he said.
The remarks were made in reference to the recent decision by Seoul and Washington to postpone the transition of the wartime control, originally scheduled to take place on April 17, 2012, till Dec. 1, 2015.
Seoul's wartime operational control was given to the U.S.-led United Nations Command at the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War, which was later transferred to the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC).
Some 28,500 U.S. troops have been stationed here following the deadly civil war, providing a security umbrella in the volatile region. South Korea regained peacetime control in 1994, and late former President Roh Moo-hyun struck a contentious deal with Washington in 2007 to take over the wartime command, a move that angered conservatives fearing a possible security vacuum.
The sinking of a South Korean warship has deepened security concerns here and prompted the government to rethink the planned transfer. But critics of Lee, including South Korea's opposition parties, have griped about the recent move by the two allies, arguing it hampers military autonomy of the country.