By Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL – The United States discussed “at a very basic level” using its bases in South Korea to temporarily house refugees from Afghanistan, but talks on the issue have not progressed, South Korea’s foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong told lawmakers at a parliamentary hearing that there was no such discussion currently under way, but under additional questioning said that American officials had made preliminary requests.
“It is true that (the allies) did discuss the possibility at the very basic level,” he said. “It, however, was not discussed seriously.”
Chung said any use of American bases for refugees would require permission of the South Korean government.
In a statement, U.S. Forces Korea said it had not been told to provide temporary housing or other support for anyone leaving Afghanistan.
“If tasked, USFK will work with the Department of State, Department of Defense and the Republic of Korea government while maintaining our ROK-U.S. Alliance and obligation to provide and maintain a robust combined defence posture,” the military command said in a statement after The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that U.S. bases around the world were being eyed as possible sites.
The United States stations around 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Camp Humphreys, a recently completed $11 billion garrison 40 miles (64 km) south of Seoul, is America’s largest overseas military base.
American bases in countries such as Qatar have been used to temporarily host refugees being airlifted from Kabul airport. At the American air base in Ramstein Germany, U.S. soldiers have set up more than 70 military shelters for up to 10,000 evacuees from Afghanistan.
U.S. President Joe Biden secured agreement from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Sunday to use two military bases in southern Spain to receive Afghans who have worked for the U.S. government, the Spanish government said on Sunday.