CAMP GREAVES, South Korea — Changes to American troop deployments will make South Korea less vulnerable to North Korean threats, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said yesterday as he sought to ease friction about the countries’ military alliance.
“We believe there are adjustments and realignments and enhancements that both of us can make to our forces that would give us a stronger deterrent posture, not that it’s weak now,” Mr. Wolfowitz told reporters after speaking with troops at Camp Greaves, near the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.
Mr. Wolfowitz, who was to meet later yesterday with South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil, didn’t elaborate on the changes.
U.S. troop redeployments have been a touchy subject between Washington and Seoul since Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in April that troops stationed near the border between the two Koreas could be shifted south, moved to other countries in the region or brought home.
About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea. Seoul worries that reductions would put it at greater risk of attack from the North. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased because of the nuclear-weapons-development program the North is suspected of having.
The visit by the Pentagon’s No. 2 official came amid new tensions on the divided peninsula.
Hours before his arrival, South Korea’s navy fired warning shots over eight North Korean fishing boats that the Defense Ministry in Seoul said had illegally crossed into Southern territorial waters. The boats turned back soon after the confrontation.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage in the incident off Yongpyong island, west of the peninsula. It was the sixth confrontation between North and South Korean boats along the disputed western sea border in a week.
South Korea said North Korea must come up with “responsible measures” to prevent further incursions.
“We make it clear that North Korea will be held completely responsible for any incidents that arise from North Korean boats violating the Northern Limit Line along the west border,” the ministry said in a statement.
At a regional security conference in Singapore on Saturday, Mr. Wolfowitz said North Korea is “teetering on the edge of economic collapse” and called on Asian nations to put economic pressure on Pyongyang to end its nuclear ambitions.
North Korea has suffered repeated famine and has depended on outside help since the mid-1990s to feed its 22 million people. South Korea says it opposes sanctions against the North and sends aid to smooth relations. The two nations, which divided in 1945, technically remain at war since they fought in the 1950s.
The nuclear dispute with the North deepened in October, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted running a secret nuclear-weapons program in violation of a 1994 pact.
In a related development, South Korean prosecutors said they have arrested a former aide to ex-President Kim Dae-jung in a scandal about the inter-Korean summit three years ago.
Lee Ki-ho, a former economic aide to Mr. Kim, is accused of influencing a South Korean bank to extend loans to the Hyundai business group, which gave $500 million to North Korea.
Opposition leaders say the previous administration used some of the money to bribe Pyongyang to agree to the June 2000 summit between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.