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S. Korea, US hold SOFA meeting ahead of Trump administration

South Korea and the United States on Tuesday had a joint committee meeting to discuss various issues on their agreement governing the legal status of American forces stationed in South Korea, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.

The 197th joint committee meeting of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which defines areas of legal responsibility of the 28,000-strong U.S. soldiers here, was held at the foreign ministry in Seoul. The SOFA meeting is held once or twice a year, and this was the first time since last December that South Korea and the U.S. officials convened.

The foreign ministry said Yeo Seung-bae, the foreign ministry's director-general for North America and his counterpart Thomas Bergeson, deputy commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), touched on issues such as education of American forces on local law and customs, the USFK's stable employment of South Korean workers and environmental problems near the U.S. bases here.

The ministry added that the two sides also talked about implementation measures taken after a live anthrax sample from a U.S. military laboratory was shipped to a local military base by mistake and caused alarm bells to go off in the country last year.

The meeting took place before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump -- one of whose campaign pledges was to have allies, including South Korea, pay more for American troops stationed in those countries -- took over the White House.

"Both sides agreed to continue cooperation to manage various SOFA issues so that the U.S. can have a stable environment for their forces here, while South Korea can minimize the discomfort to their people," the ministry said.

South Korea and the U.S. will also cooperate on solving an oil pollution problem near the Yongsan base in central Seoul, according to the ministry. The two sides have been discussing the issue through the Environmental Joint Working Group.

They will also work together to solve the electricity billing issue for the USFK, and reduce crimes committed by U.S. military personnel here, the ministry added. Since 2010, crimes involving U.S. military personnel have been declining. (Yonhap)

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