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US, S. Korea hold separate talks on cost-sharing, status of forces

Flags, including those from the United States, South Korea and the United Nations, are displayed at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Aug. 27, 2018.

SAVANNAH WATERS/U.S. AIR FORCE

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 11, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and South Korea held separate talks Tuesday on military cost-sharing and the agreement on the legal status of American forces who are being consolidated south of Seoul.

The stakes were highest in Seoul where U.S. and South Korean delegates facing an end-of-year deadline began a 10th round of negotiations over footing the multimillion dollar bill to maintain some 28,500 American troops on the divided peninsula.

The current five-year deal, known as the special measures agreement, is set to expire on Dec. 31.

Negotiators reportedly have been struggling to find middle ground on a U.S. demand that Seoul increase its contribution, which has been some $830 million per year, or about half of the total.

Most of the money pays for South Korean employees, services and construction needed to keep operations running smoothly.

No details were released Tuesday on the sensitive talks, which the foreign ministry said would last three days.

Separately, U.S. and South Korean officials held routine discussions in Pyeongtaek on the bilateral status of forces agreement, which lays out the legal status of American forces in South Korea.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, deputy commander of U.S. Forces Korea, met with the director general of South Korea’s North American affairs bureau Kim Tae-jin at the city hall in Pyeongtaek, the city that hosts new USFK headquarters Camp Humphreys.

The command moved to the newly expanded Army garrison over the summer, resolving the frequently delayed relocation of most U.S. forces off their previous headquarters on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.

The Americans are now preparing to return Yongsan in the next few years to the South Korean government, which is expected to use the land as a park.

“The two sides highlighted recent developments made in the course of USFK’s relocation to Pyeongtaek, as well as preparation for the return of Yongsan Garrison,” according to a joint statement about the 199th joint committee meeting.

“The two Representatives pledged to further cooperate on setting conditions for a successful transition, so as to maintain a stable stationing environment for USFK and enhance public safety and welfare,” it said.

Coining the term USFK’s “Pyeongtaek era,” the sides pledged to work together to ensure a smooth return of Yongsan and to address potential environmental problems that may arise there and on other U.S. bases.

They also promised to maintain “timely and close communication and cooperation” to ensure “harmonious relations” between the military and local communities near Humphreys, including the need to prevent crime and address noise complaints and other inconveniences.

Humphreys, about 40 miles south of Seoul, has grown from a remote outpost surrounded by rice paddies to a sprawling base that resembles an American suburb with a population of nearly 30,000.

South Korea and the United States have been allies since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

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