The US will return wartime command of South Korean troops to Seoul in 2009, a news report said yesterday, almost 60 years after it assumed control to help repel invading North Korean troops.
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld outlined Washington's plan in a recent letter to his South Korean counterpart, the first time he has suggested 2009 as a target year, Yonhap news agency said, citing a South Korean government official.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has recently reaffirmed his commitment to taking back the command of South Korea's troops amid growing opposition at home for such move. Seoul has proposed the transfer take place in 2012.
South Korea handed control of its troops to a US-led UN command in 1950 that helped the country fight back invading North Korean troops during the 1950-1953 Korean War.
Peacetime control of the military was returned to Seoul in 1994, but the US is still supposed to exercise control over South Korea's 650,000 troops if war breaks out on the divided Korean Peninsula.
In his letter, Rumsfeld said that 2009 was a reasonable target considering the need to relocate the headquarters of the US military out of Seoul and the proposed dissolution of the South Korea-US Combined Forces Command, Yonhap said.
The US plans to move its military headquarters from Seoul and some other bases to Pyeongtaek, about 65km south of Seoul, by 2008 as part of a 2004 agreement.
The defense and foreign ministries weren't immediately available for comment.
The issue will be discussed during a summit between Roh and US President George W. Bush in Washington on Sept. 14, Yonhap said, citing officials.
Earlier this month, Roh said that Washington actively supported his initiative but the issue has become a divisive topic in South Korea as critics stepped up their campaign against the government's plan.