September 02, 2019 11:59
Cheong Wa Dae on Friday announced it will seek the early return of 26 U.S. military bases in Korea, including the old U.S. Forces Korea headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul now it has mostly moved to Pyeongtaek further south.
The plan comes amid a widening rift between the two allies as the U.S. increases pressure on Korea to pay more for the upkeep of the USFK and diplomatic posturing grows between the two sides.
"The process of returning the Yongsan military base will start within this year, and we will seek the early returns of at least four U.S. bases in Wonju, Bupyeong and Dongducheon, which have dragged on," Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement.
A Cheong Wa Dae official said, "We're merely planning to pursue the relocation to Pyeongtaek as agreed and have already notified the U.S."
But the announcement comes at a time when friction with Washington is growing over Korea's plan to scrap an intelligence-sharing agreement with the U.S.' other regional ally, Japan, and U.S. President Donald Trump's demands for Korea to shoulder more of the troop upkeep, which is up for renegotiation later this month.
The Cheong Wa Dae official said, "Out of 80 U.S. military bases scheduled to be returned, 54 have been but 26 are left. We just want to speed it up. It has nothing to do with the decision to end [the intelligence-sharing pact] or other Korea-U.S. security issues."
The return of the bases could make a useful weapon in the cost-sharing negotiations as they will cost a lot of money to clean up after decades of ground pollution from armaments and fuel.
The epic relocation to Pyeongtaek is now due to be completed by 2021 under a new agreement in June this year, according to the Defense Ministry. That is also when Seoul hopes to complete the handover of wartime operational control of Korean troops from the USFK commander to Korea.
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