WASHINGTON: United States (US) House and Senate negotiators released their compromise draft of an annual defence policy bill Thursday, which calls for maintaining 28,500 US troops in South Korea and deepening nuclear deterrence coordination between Seoul and Washington.

They unveiled the final draft of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) for the 2024 fiscal year, reported Yonhap news agency, adding that Congress passes the bill each year to set defence policy and funding priorities and give guidance on a range of key security matters.

The NDAA draft includes a call to reinforce the South Korea-US alliance by maintaining the US troop presence in South Korea at its current level and affirming the US’ extended deterrence commitment to using the full range of its defence capabilities.

It also calls for deeper coordination on nuclear deterrence as highlighted in the Washington Declaration that South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden adopted during their White House summit in April.

The declaration entailed the creation of the Nuclear Consultative Group designed to discuss nuclear and strategic planning issues, and other measures to enhance the credibility of America’s extended deterrence commitment to South Korea.

The mention of the declaration was not included in the initial Senate NDAA bill though it was in the House draft.

On the allies’ efforts for the conditions-based transition of wartime operational control (OPCON), the bill requests that the secretary of defence in coordination with the secretary of state submit to relevant congressional committees a report on a set of transfer conditions no later than 180 days after the act’s enactment.

The draft also stipulates that no later than 45 days before the transfer, the defense secretary is to notify Congress of such a transfer.

The draft increases the national defense budget by roughly 3 per cent to US$886 billion.

“Providing for our national defense is Congress’ most important responsibility under the US Constitution, and the NDAA is key to fulfilling that duty. Our nation faces unprecedented threats from China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea,“ representatives of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees said in a statement.

“We urge Congress to pass the NDAA quickly and President Biden to sign it when it reaches his desk,“ they added.

After the House and Senate endorsed their respective NDAA versions in July, their negotiators carried out intense negotiations to craft a bipartisan version, which should then be passed by both chambers.–Bernama-Yonhap

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