October 24, 2014 09:30
Korea and the U.S. agreed to postpone the handover of full operational control of South Korean troops from the December 2015 to after 2025.
Neither side set a specific date, but they agreed that the transfer will happen only if certain conditions are met, among them that South Korea can respond to a North Korean nuclear missile attack on its own.
Seoul and Washington also agreed to keep the Combined Forces Command in Seoul even after the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters moves to Pyeongtaek in 2016.
The 210th Field Artillery Brigade of the 2nd U.S. Infantry Division will also remain in Dongducheon near the border until around 2020 to promptly respond to threats from North Korean long-range artillery.
The deal undoes much of the work of previous administrations, who had hoped for a less obtrusive U.S. military presence and to regain full sovereignty after decades of what they saw as a dependent arrangement with Washington.
Under the current setup that is now to continue for at least another decade, South Korean troops would come under U.S. control in wartime, a unique situation in the world.
The agreement was signed between Defense Minister Han Min-koo and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the annual Security Consultative Meeting in Washington on Thursday. The two sides had been renegotiating the terms of the handover, with Seoul arguing that its army is as yet unfit to stand on its own feet against the mounting North Korean nuclear and missile threat.
A high-ranking Defense Ministry official denied the handover has been postponed indefinitely. "We expect it to happen in the mid-2020s" when Seoul completes its own missile defense.
The decision to leave CFC headquarters at the Yongsan garrison has sparked worries that the government is backtracking on plans to turn the sprawling U.S. military compound in the middle of Seoul into a park. The CFC headquarters includes not only the command building but also an underground bunker and drill ground.
But a senior officer said the total area of the CFC headquarters that will remain consists of "less than 10 percent" of the total 2.65 million sq.m military base.
The 210th Field Artillery Brigade will move further south of the border around 2020, when the South Korean military will be capable of independently dealing with a North Korean long-range artillery attack, the Defense Ministry said.
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