SEOUL — South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil left yesterday for Washington and talks with his U.S. counterpart, Donald H. Rumsfeld, on North Korea’s nuclear threat and the realignment of American military forces here.
During his five-day visit to the United States, Mr. Cho will also meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the Defense Ministry said.
Discussions today between Mr. Cho and Mr. Rumsfeld will focus on how to strengthen military ties between the allies after the redeployment of U.S. troops in South Korea, it said.
The repositioning of 37,000 American troops based here under a mutual-defense pact has been proposed as part of Bush administration plans to enhance their war capability in South Korea. The United States and South Korea agreed in early June to gradually reposition U.S. forces away from the inter-Korean border.
Mr. Cho will brief Mr. Rumsfeld on South Korean plans to fill the vacuum in the border area left by the redeployment of 15,000 GIs of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division, Yonhap news agency said.
Lt. Gen. Charles Campbell, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army, confirmed at a seminar here yesterday that the shift would go ahead.
“Although no timetable had been set, both governments have agreed to relocate the bulk of the U.S. Yongsan garrison and to reposition the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division,” Gen. Campbell said.
The U.S. garrison at Yongsan Military Reservation has long been an irritant in U.S.-South Korea ties because of its location on prime real estate in the heart of the South Korean capital.
The United States plans to reduce the number of major installations in South Korea from 41 to 23 and return roughly 50 percent of the land it currently uses to South Korea by 2011.
Gen. Campbell said the military alliance between Seoul and Washington “has proved flexible enough to accommodate the great changes that have occurred” in Northeast Asia.
“Once again, the U.S.[-Republic of Korea] military relationship is entering an era of realignment,” Gen. Campbell said, citing increased war capability brought about by “precision-guided munitions and near-real-time communications.”
The commander said South Korea and the United States should be ready for the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang.
“Not only does the alliance have to plan for a seemingly more-difficult military threat, but we must also give thought to the alternative — the collapse of the regime due to a struggle for succession or economic collapse.”
U.S. ground forces have been deployed as a tripwire along the demilitarized zone between North and South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, ensuring that an invasion from the North would immediately involve the United States.
Washington argues that the tripwire concept is outdated and that redeployment will enhance U.S. combat potential.
The American military presence in South Korea was challenged last year by massive protests after two schoolgirls were crushed by a U.S. armored vehicle while walking alongside a public road.