Ambassador: Military expecting to move all Yongsan forces south
SEOUL — For the first time, top U.S. officials have said publicly they would like to move all of their forces — including the Combined Forces Command and United Nations Command — out of Yongsan Garrison.
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard made the comments in a Tuesday interview broadcast in English on local radio Wednesday.
“We will continue to have those discussions, but the current U.S. view is that all of our forces that are now stationed in Seoul will be moved to other locations,” Hubbard said.
The comments are a departure from previous statements by U.S. officials, who indicated they would leave a portion of the troops in Seoul to man the joint commands with the South Koreans and United Nations.
The two nations have been in negotiations for several years over when, where and how to reapportion the 37,000 U.S. servicemembers in South Korea. Most forces would move to two clusters at existing bases in Osan and Pyongtaek.
But Hubbard dismissed reports that the desire to shift all forces from Seoul was the result of a dispute over the size of any remaining U.S. presence at Yongsan. Korean media have speculated that stating all troops would be moved from Seoul is a bargaining tactic.
“No,” Hubbard said. “Our general expectation is all of our forces will move south.”
South Korean Ministry of National Defense officials said Hubbard’s comments were not surprising but declined further comment.
“We still have nothing to say on that matter,” said Maj. Kim Ki-bom, a ministry spokesman. “Whatever was aired, our position is that we’ll keep talking with the U.S.”
The fifth round of Future of the Alliance talks ended in October with the sides unable to reach a final agreement. Officials have not said when the next round of discussions would take place.
After top-level meetings last week between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and South Korean Minister of National Defense Cho Yung-kil, the two issued a joint statement expressing their “regret” that no final agreement has been reached.
At several later stops on his tour of U.S. bases in South Korea, Rumsfeld reiterated the broad desire to reposition and restructure troops on the peninsula but declined to comment on specifics.
“I’m in the business of looking at things on a macro basis, the world,” Rumsfeld said in an interview with a South Korean news service.