Talks on U.S. forces in S. Korea to begin
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — With a myriad of issues on the table and increasing momentum for large troop shifts, South Korean and U.S. officials kick off the latest round of Future of the Alliance talks Monday in Seoul.
The ninth session will include discussions on finalizing plans to move Yongsan Garrison out of Seoul by 2007, the U.S. decision to dispatch 3,600 2nd Infantry Division soldiers to Iraq, and the consolidation of remaining 2nd ID troops near the Demilitarized Zone.
Also on the agenda, officials confirmed for the first time last week: a U.S. overture to remove 12,000 servicemembers from the peninsula.
U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed military capabilities over numbers of boots on the ground, saying that the American force in South Korea needs to reflect 21st century realities.
The South Korean public largely has split down the middle on the issue of downsizing U.S. forces. It’s mostly older Koreans, with memories of the Korean War, who see the U.S. presence as a necessary deterrent to aggression by the North.
Younger generations have rallied against the troop presence, saying it’s time for South Korea to take responsibility for its own defense and that American troops are an unfair burden on the country.
Officials from both sides say the gaps to be bridged in the talks are technicalities, not matters of overall policy.
“There isn’t even the slightest disagreement on the fact that the fundamental and primary mission of U.S. Forces Korea lies in deterring war, reducing tensions and keeping peace on the Korean Peninsula,” South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said last week.
“This will remain the same in the future,” he added, rejecting calls from some South Korean politicians to revise the 50-year-old defense treaty between the nations.
After the last round of FOTA talks, officials from both sides said they were close to a final agreement on moving Yongsan Garrison out of Seoul, but that “technical” issues remained. The move’s cost is among the biggest hurdles.
Under previous agreements, the South Koreans were to pay all the expenditures, but they’re now negotiating to have the United States share some of that burden. According to a National Assembly report unveiled last week, the cost of the move is estimated at $4 billion.