June 27, 2017 11:52
The Defense Ministry has briefed Cheong Wa Dae on progress in the epically delayed handover of full operational control of its military from the U.S. and relocation of U.S. Forces Korea headquarters.
One of Moon's campaign pledges was to complete the handover before his single, five-year term ends. A government source said Monday the ministry recently delivered a report on the issues, which had been put on the back burner in the previous conservative administration.
While of no great interest in themselves -- they concern only the chain of command in wartime and the USFK's move to a new headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province -- the two issues have assumed huge symbolic significance in terms of Korean sovereignty and split politicians along party lines.
Older conservatives generally want the U.S. to remain in charge and keep the USFK in Seoul, closer to the border with North Korea, and have hoped to delay the handover initiated by President Roh Moon-hyun in the mid-2000s.
The original deadline for the handover was 2012, but that was postponed to late 2015 under conservative President Lee Myung-bak and indefinitely under President Park Geun-hye.
In 2014, South Korea and the U.S. agreed to complete the handover only when the North Korean nuclear and missile threats are resolved and the South Korean troops become fully prepared to defend the borders.
Seoul and Washington agreed to let Combined Forces Command and the Eighth U.S. Army stay in Yongsan right in the middle of Seoul until the handover, even though a hugely expensive new headquarters has already been built in Pyeongtaek.
Some media reports on Monday said Cheong Wa Dae ordered the ministry to move the CFC out of Yongsan, but the presidential office denied this.
The CFC, which was established in 1978, is headed by the U.S. Forces Korea commander until a new joint arrangement is reached for the handover of wartime troop control. It will have operational control over more than 600,000 South Korean soldiers in the event of a war.
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