Report: U.S. could pull out of Seoul entirely
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Differences with South Korea over how to reposition U.S. troops could lead the U.S. military to pull its entire force from Seoul, Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday.
The disagreement centered on how much Yongsan land the U.S. military still would use, news reports said.
If accurate, the reports mean U.S. soldiers could move out of North Korean artillery range during a slow-burning row with the country over its nuclear program.
U.S. Forces Korea spokeswoman Lee Ferguson, noting that the reports did not originate from the U.S. military, said she had no comment.
Officials at South Korea’s Defense Ministry and Blue House — its presidential office — said they couldn’t confirm the reports.
“We can’t confirm any part of it. I can’t deny, nor confirm it at the moment,” Maj. Kim Ki-bom, South Korea Defense Ministry spokesman, said Thursday. “All I can say, as what Defense Minister Cho [Young-kil] said during the press conference Monday, is that we will keep discussing.”
South Korean newspapers have reported that the United States has proposed moving the Combined Forces Command and the U.N. Command south of Seoul.
In June, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte said 1,000 soldiers likely would stay at Yongsan with those commands, while 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers would move to the Camp Humphreys area in Pyongtaek.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Cho said they regretted no plan was ready by the Security Consultative Meeting, a one-day annual defense conference held Monday. Cho said a plan would be ready by year’s end.
Negotiations continue “as far as I know,” said Lee Ji-hyun, South Korean presidential office spokeswoman.
Any agreement, she said, “would be released with both sides present. Any statement would be releasable by mutual consent of both parties.”
Yongsan Garrison, a sprawling 800-acre post in the middle of Seoul, also accommodates two other commands: U.S. Forces Korea and U.S. 8th Army.
South Koreans have demanded for years the U.S. military vacate the former Japanese Imperial Army headquarters, used during Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
U.S. and South Korean negotiators have met five times since April, but no concrete plan for moving U.S. forces has been negotiated.
They have agreed the 14,000-person 2nd Infantry Division eventually will move south of the Han River in a two-phase plan, and Yongsan Garrison will move by 2006, but questions remain over the timetable and money.
No date for further talks was available Thursday.
During his presidency from 1998 to 2003, Kim Dae-jung advocated keeping U.S. troops in Seoul, seeing their presence 35 miles from the North Korean border as stabilizing.
Even if U.S. troops are farther from the border, high-tech weaponry will allow for a better defense of South Korea, U.S. defense officials said. The United States will spend $11 billion over the next three years to improve 150 defense systems in South Korea, military officials said.
The South Korean military also will take over 10 missions currently performed by the United States, Cho said Monday.
During a visit to Osan Air Base Tuesday, Rumsfeld advocated a more self-reliant role for the South Korean military.