South Korea's push for a prompt return of American military bases in the country has long been discussed between the allies and the US is also positive on the move, the defense ministry said Tuesday, guarding against any political interpretation of the issue.
Last week, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae vowed to push for a prompt return of 26 US Forces Korea (USFK) bases across the country, sparking speculation that it may signal a possible rift in the alliance following Seoul's decision to terminate a military information-sharing pact with Japan.
"The issue has long been discussed between the two sides in accordance with the broader scheme to move US military bases to Pyeongtaek," defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a regular briefing, referring to the city located some 70 kilometers south of Seoul, where Camp Humphreys, a sprawling US military complex, is located.
Noting that "the US side has also shown a positive stance" regarding the matter, Choi said it has expressed hope for "the smooth transition to Pyeongtaek so as to swiftly set conditions for creating a park there as the Seoul government is planning."
Choi also said that it is "not appropriate to link the matter to recent diplomatic and security issues involving Japan and the US and to translate the government's recent announcement into something that intends to put pressure on the US."
Last month, South Korea announced its decision to end the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) after Japan enacted export curbs on South Korea in apparent retaliation against the top court's ruling on wartime forced labor. Washington has since publicly expressed disappointment with the decision and concern over the possible loosening of trilateral security cooperation.
Among 80 bases, 54 have been returned so far, though the process in some regions has been going slowly due partly to the handling of polluted soil.
The USFK will reportedly vacate its Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul within this year, and the allies are pushing to complete the relocation of their Combined Forces Command (CFC) headquarters out of Seoul by 2021.