SEOUL — The United States will pause the drawdown of its troops in South Korea, military officials from both countries said Monday.

President Bush and new South Korean president Lee Myung-bak agreed to the pause during their Camp David visit Friday and Saturday.

It was the first meeting between the two leaders, and several political experts in Seoul see the agreement as a signal of improved relations between the two countries under Lee’s leadership.

Under the pause, the U.S. will maintain its current level of about 28,000 troops “for the foreseeable future,” U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Franklin Childress said Monday. That number was scheduled to drop to 25,000 by the end of the year, when the drawdown was scheduled to end.

The U.S. and South Korea agreed to the drawdown in 2004, when the U.S. had 38,500 troops stationed in South Korea.

Childress said the agreement was made by the presidents, adding it would be “inappropriate” for him to speculate on which country asked for the pause.

He said details of the agreement would be coordinated by the top defense official of each country, but it would mean little change for the militaries, including cost sharing for stationing the U.S. troops in South Korea.

“There basically is no change to the current status of how we’re paying for the troops,” he said. “We’re not going out and getting extra money. It’s just maintaining what we have.”

Under an agreement between the two countries, the U.S. pays to bring its soldiers to South Korea and for their living expenses. South Korea pays about 41 percent of USFK’s upkeep, officials said last month.

A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said the countries would decide jointly how long the pause will last, and who will pay the cost of maintaining the current troop level.

USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell told Congress last month that Lee could ask for the pause during his visit to Washington, so the countries could study the future of the drawdown.

“If he does ask for that pause, I think it would be prudent for the United States to agree to sit down and discuss the issue and then potentially execute a pause based on those discussions,” Bell said in March.

South Korean arms status upgraded

President Bush and his South Korea counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, also agreed to upgrade South Korea’s Foreign Military Sales status, according to a press release both countries issued after the leaders’ summit concluded over the weekend.

The program determines who gets preferential treatment for the sale of U.S. arms, defense equipment, defense services and military training.

A South Korean Ministry of Defense official told Stars and Stripes last month that an upgrade in the country’s purchasing status “is very important” and could reduce costs because of the greater ability to buy in bulk in a shorter time frame.

— Ashley Rowland

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