The United States respects South Korea's decision to seek an early return of more than two dozen American military bases in the country and will work with its ally to get the bases returned "as expeditiously as possible," U.S. Forces Korea said Tuesday.
South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae announced the decision last week, saying the move is in line with the relocation of all U.S. bases to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul.
"We are aware of the ROK government's decision to expedite the return process of U.S. installations announced on Friday (August 30)," the USFK said in a statement sent to Yonhap News Agency, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
"We respect their decision and remain committed to cooperating with the ROK government to enable the return of U.S. installations to the ROK public and local communities as expeditiously as possible," it added.
The move affects 26 bases, including the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul.
News of the decision prompted speculation of a widening rift in the South Korea-U.S. alliance after Washington publicly rebuked Seoul for its refusal to renew a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.
South Korea's defense ministry denied any connection, saying the return was long discussed between the allies and that Washington has also shown a "positive stance" toward the issue.
Reclaiming the bases has been a slow process in some regions due in part to the handling of polluted soil. Cheong Wa Dae noted that some residents close to the bases have suffered economic difficulties as a result of the delay.
The U.S. military presence dates back to the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are currently stationed in the South to deter North Korean aggression. (Yonhap)