Yongsan relocation talks pushed to July
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — After abruptly canceling talks scheduled to begin Monday, South Korean and U.S. officials say they’re eager to reschedule the meeting and finalize plans for moving Yongsan Garrison.
Over the weekend, South Korean Ministry of National Defense officials said the talks — intended to clear lingering issues before negotiations over the much larger troop-reduction topic — would be moved back to late July.
Though some media outlets speculated the move was in deference to this weekend’s return of the body of a South Korean man beheaded by terrorists in Iraq, the official explanation was that both sides needed more time to study the proposals.
Richard Lawless, lead U.S. negotiator in the Future of the Alliance Policy Initiative (FOTA) talks, expressed hope that this time, remaining issues could be resolved.
In comments to reporters before boarding a return flight from the six-nation talks in Beijing, Lawless, a deputy assistant defense secretary, said it was unclear whether the next round of talks would be in Seoul or Washington. Earlier this month, after the last round of FOTA discussions, Lawless expressed “frustration” with the process, which has dragged on for almost two years.
The two sides now are at an impasse over how much land should be provided for an expanded U.S. military hub in Pyongtaek. A broad agreement, which will see Yongsan Garrison completely moved by 2007, was reached but “technical issues” remain unresolved, officials say.
Another factor is the move’s cost, which South Korean government officials have estimated at $3 billion to $4 billion. Under current agreements, the South Koreans will pick up that whole tab, but officials are negotiating for a revision.
The urgency in finalizing the relocation talks increased when the United States proposed removing 12,500 of its 38,000 servicemembers on the peninsula by next year. The proposal, first broached by U.S. officials last summer, quickly overshadowed the relocation issue, though the two are tied together.
South Korean and American officials agreed that the relocation issue should be completed before the much tougher negotiations over the troop reduction were undertaken.