South Korea and the United States will relocate the U.S. military headquarters in Seoul to south of the capital as planned because it is "a pledge to the people," Seoul's defense chief said Tuesday.
In 2004, the allies agreed to relocate the Yongsan Garrison, the sprawling U.S. military headquarters in central Seoul, and the 2nd Infantry Division north of Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of the capital, by the end of 2016.
"The plan to relocate the U.S. bases will be implemented (as planned) as South Korea and the U.S. promised their peoples to do so," Defense Minister Han Min-koo told reporters.
He also noted that "nothing has been decided" over whether to make an exception for the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command(CFC) in the relocation plan.
"The two sides are to have discussions over where to locate it and how to deal with relevant issues," he said.
"Under the changing circumstances of the delay in our retaking of wartime command from the U.S., we are reviewing diverse ways on how to strengthen our joint defense system," the defense chief said, without elaborating.
The CFC was to be disbanded upon South Korea's retaking of wartime operational control (OPCON) from the U.S. in December 2015, but a bilateral agreement to delay the transfer has led the CFC to remain intact.
Seoul and Washington, however, remain at odds over whether to move the CFC headquarters from Seoul to Pyeongtaek.
A military source here said earlier this month the U.S. has proposed the CFC "be exempted from the relocation plan for the U.S.
bases," while South Korea has stuck to its position of pushing the plan as scheduled without exception.
On the matter, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who commands the 28,500 U.S. troops here, said Sunday "that is under consideration" and he is trying to "come up with the best posture for the security" of South Korea.
The CFC has wartime operational control over more than 600,000 South Korean troops and U.S. troops stationed here. The headquarters, established in 1978, are located in Yongsan.
Discussions are under way to decide the timeframe and conditions of the transfer, with the two sides vowing to decide on the specifics by October. Many expect the transfer to be scheduled for between 2020 and 2022.
During a regular briefing on Tuesday, Seoul's defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok also denied a report by the vernacular daily Donga Ilbo that Seoul and Washington have decided to set up a task force for consultations to reorganize the infantry division into a combined arms unit and have it stay north of the capital.
"The report is far from true," he said, noting that no U.S. military base will exist north of the Han River, which runs through the capital city, after the plan is implemented.
The spokesman, however, said "diverse discussions have been under way" between Seoul and Washington on "how to best maintain our joint combat readiness" after the relocation.
Last year, Scaparrotti told reporters that his country is reviewing an option of the combined division, noting that it "is a strong possibility, and it will be a strong additive to our alliance." (Yonhap)