Support our mission
 

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Chastised by visiting U.S. officials and now facing the larger issue of losing a third of the U.S. troops based on the peninsula, South Korea said Wednesday it would push for a final agreement on base relocation talks.

On Tuesday afternoon, the two allies concluded the ninth round of Future of the Alliance discussions essentially where they had begun — with an umbrella agreement on moving Yongsan Garrison out of Seoul by 2007 and eventually consolidating and shifting 2nd Infantry Division troops from their bases near the Demilitarized Zone.

But two days of negotiations failed to produce a concrete deal.

At an afternoon news conference Tuesday, the head of the American negotiating team expressed “frustration” at the lack of progress in the FOTA talks, one of the most overt statements by a U.S. official on negotiations that have stalled over issues of land and money.

According to South Korean and U.S. participants, the talks have been hung up on how much more land the United States would need in the Pyongtaek area, where an expanded Camp Humphreys would be the new military hub in South Korea. The $4 billion price tag of the Yongsan Garrison move — to be paid entirely by the South Koreans under current agreements — also has been a stumbling block.

But on Wednesday — with South Korea’s government addressing this week’s formal proposal by the United States to remove 12,500 of its 38,000 troops by 2005 — officials said the FOTA talks should be concluded as soon as possible.

“We set the next FOTA as our deadline” for an agreement, Kim Sook, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said Wednesday. The two sides would hold a special meeting in either late June or early July to decide the issue, he added.

The U.S. negotiating team this week brought up the issue of timing, pointing out that unless a deal was reached soon, South Korea’s parliament — which must approve any agreement — would adjourn until next year without a final plan.

The troop-reduction announcement also has affected perceptions of the other looming issue: the North Korean nuclear crisis. Many South Korean conservatives say a troop drawdown would send the wrong message to Pyongyang while six-nation talks are under way.

U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the size of the U.S. force on the ground in South Korea would not determine its deterrent capabilities. They also tout $11 billion in military investments over the next four years.

On Wednesday, South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki-moon told reporters the natural course for the United States and South Korea is to bolster its joint defense, however many troops remain on the peninsula.

“South Korea and the United States have kept the most successful alliance for more than a half-century, which serves as a solid foundation for security on the Korean Peninsula,” Ban said, according to media accounts of his news conference.

Migrated

stars and stripes videos

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up