- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

The Clinton administration yesterday welcomed a planned first-ever summit between North and South Korea but vowed to keep U.S. forces on the peninsula whatever the outcome.

"In terms of getting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, this is a necessary step," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said.

"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves," she added. "We have to take this one step at a time."

U.S. troops have been in South Korea for a half-century, currently 37,000 of them, and they are backed by minefields intended to stop authoritarian North Korea from attacking U.S.-backed South Korea.

"From our standpoint, our deployment of forces and troops and equipment in South Korea was justified by the historical situation there," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said. "That remains our view."

"I'm not aware of any changes in those plans," the U.S. official said.

Mr. Rubin also voiced concern about North Korea's export of missiles and missile technology, and said the United States planned further talks with Pyongyang on the subject.

Meanwhile, President Clinton praised the announced summit between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea as "testimony in the wisdom and long-term vision" of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

Mr. Clinton, in a statement, congratulated Mr. Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for scheduling the first face-to-face meeting since the Korean Peninsula was divided in 1945.

"Direct dialogue between the two Koreas is something we have long advocated and is fundamental to solving the problems of the Korean Peninsula," Mr. Clinton said.

Mrs. Albright said the scheduling of a meeting in June was important and "we are very pleased this is going to go forward."

Mr. Rubin said a direct dialogue is "central to the achievement of peace and stability" on the peninsula. He said South Korea's engagement policy and a Japanese meeting with North Korea helped open the door to the summit.

Mr. Rubin also said Michael Sheehan, director of the State Department's counterterrorism office, had outlined for North Korean officials what they must do to win removal from a list of terrorism-supporting states.

Among the requirements is a declaration that North Korea no longer promotes terrorism.

Under the law, the impoverished country is ineligible for virtually all U.S. assistance so long as it is branded a terrorism sponsor.

Mr. Rubin called the summit "a history-making event," but said "whether it will achieve history-making results is something that I don't care to speculate on two months in advance."

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