US, South Korea Discuss Status of Forces Agreement Ahead of Trump

South Korean and American airmen step to their jets in preparation for takeoff during the Buddy Wing program March 11 at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. The Buddy Wing program is designed to increase United States Air Force and South Korean air force interoperability. ( U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Dana Hill)South Korean and American airmen step to their jets in preparation for takeoff during the Buddy Wing program March 11 at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. The Buddy Wing program is designed to increase United States Air Force and South Korean air force interoperability. ( U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Dana Hill)

U.S. and South Korean officials met Tuesday to discuss arrangements for the continued presence of 28,000 U.S. troops and possible changes that may be sought by President-elect Donald Trump.

The U.S. team for talks on the current Status of Forces Agreement was led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson, deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Korea and deputy commander of United Nations Command Korea.

Yeo Seung-bae, the Foreign Ministry’s director-general for North America, led the South Korean delegation at the meeting in Seoul, the first for the joint committee on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in nearly a year.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency noted that the meeting took place during the White House’s transition to Trump, who made campaign pledges “to have allies, including South Korea, pay more for American troops stationed in those countries.”

Trump frequently complained that Japan, South Korea and NATO allies are not contributing enough for the stationing of U.S. troops and the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

A statement issued by the South Korean Foreign Ministry said, “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.”

Yonhap said the two sides also discussed cooperation on solving an oil pollution problem near the Yongsan base in central Seoul, and questions regarding the electricity bills for U.S. Forces-Korea.

The meeting took place amid political turmoil in South Korea over a corruption scandal that has led to calls for the resignation of President Park Geun-hye and growing alarm over North Korea’s nuclear threat.

To counter North Korea, the U.S. and South Korea have agreed to the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea, prompting strident denunciations from China.

South Korean analysts said Trump’s election has contributed to the air of uncertainty in South Korea.

Yonhap quoted Woo Jung-yeop, a researcher at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies, as saying that “it will become difficult to predict policy direction” with Trump in the White House.

About the Author

Richard Sisk
Richard Sisk is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.