- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

The overwhelming majority of South Koreans, living in the shadow of the bellicose North, are grateful to the United States and want U.S. troops to remain, the South Korean government said yesterday.
"Recent polls say that three-quarters of Koreans agree with the presence of U.S. forces and want them to stay," said Soo-dong O, spokesman for the South Korean Embassy in Washington.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that the Bush administration was discussing the possibility of reducing the number of U.S. troops stationed abroad.
"There is a school of thought to rethink the numbers and types of forces we have in different locations," said Mr. Fleischer. Another administration official told The Washington Times that the discussions grew out of anti-American demonstrations and sentiment in both Germany and South Korea.
Officials of South Korea's main opposition party agreed yesterday that opposition to U.S. troops in South Korea is limited and comes mostly from younger Koreans who do not understand the danger from the North, which recently reactivated its frozen nuclear program.
"All the public polling shows that 70 percent to 80 percent of South Koreans do not want a reduction in U.S. troops in South Korea," said Chung-won Suh, chairman of the conservative Grand National Party, during a private visit to Washington.
"I even think that 20 percent of South Koreans wanting U.S. troops out is exaggerated. The great majority of South Koreans will not be happy if President Bush decides to withdraw troops."
Mr. Suh, whose party recently lost a presidential election but controls the legislature by a wide margin, said as many as 1 million South Koreans are expected to demonstrate their support of U.S. troops at a March 1 rally in Seoul.
The United States has 37,000 troops stationed in South Korea to serve as a "trip wire" should the North invade. For almost 50 years, the Americans have been a mostly welcome defense against the North, but recently attitudes have changed.
Two South Korean schoolgirls were killed while walking along a road during the summer when struck by a truck driven by U.S. soldiers. A U.S. military investigation ruled the deaths an accident, infuriating Koreans young and old.
Bush administration officials expect South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun to request a troop reduction when he takes office. That expectation has already led to negotiations between the two nations on how to reduce U.S. bases from 41 to 25, during the next 10 years.
Mr. O said demonstrations during last year's presidential campaign, where American flags were destroyed and the Bush administration vilified as more dangerous than North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, came in response to the accident. He emphasized that Mr. Roh did not attend the demonstrations as a candidate.
He said the demonstrations "are not anti-American. The demonstrations are for the rewriting of the [Status of Forces] agreements," which dictate that U.S. troops accused of breaking the law are to be investigated and prosecuted by U.S. military authorities.
"South Koreans want an equal and mutual relationship," said Mr. O.
Mr. Suh agreed, saying, "The SOFA agreements should be changed."

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