- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2005

SEOUL — The United States and South Korea yesterday reaffirmed the decades-long military alliance between the two countries, including continued plans to use nuclear weapons to deter North Korean aggression.

“Over the past few years, we’ve made a number of adjustments in our relationship in this alliance, and as changes take place in our formal posture on the peninsula and elsewhere, we will preserve and strengthen the credibility of the deterrent against either overt aggression or nuclear blackmail,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at the end of the annual security consultative meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung.

A joint communique issued at the end of the session stated that Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Yoon hope the North Korean military threat will diminish gradually through the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program and through “inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation.”

“However, both sides noted that North Korea’s continued development of [weapons of mass destruction] and long-range missiles, along with the danger of proliferation of those weapons and technologies, are causes of significant concern for the Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance and the international community,” the statement said.

It also said the U.S. military would continue to provide a “nuclear umbrella” over North Korea to deter any massive land invasion or North Korea’s use of weapons of mass destruction.

Defense officials have said South Korea sought to soften the language of the nuclear commitment in the statement but that it was rejected in talks leading up to yesterday’s meeting.

The two sides also agreed to step up discussions on giving South Korean commanders wartime control over their forces in the country.

Currently, South Korea controls its forces, but the United States assumes command during a conflict.

“The minister and the secretary agreed to appropriately accelerate discussions on command relations and wartime operational control,” the statement said.

A senior U.S. defense official said later that the United States is open to discussions on the issue, but added that the South Korean government has not fully thought through the implications of the control change.

South Korea is modernizing its armed forces under a three-phase plan that will continue until 2020. The modernization will include cutting about 170,000 troops from the current level of 675,000 and adding more lethal arms and missiles, including advanced F-15 jets and precision-guided tactical missiles.

The joint statement also said both defense chiefs welcomed North Korea’s commitment to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.

Both nations said they hope the recent agreement in Beijing at the six-party talks “would facilitate the verifiable nuclear dismantlement in order to realize the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at the earliest opportunity.”

North Korea is demanding that it be allowed to purchase nuclear-powered electrical generators before it agrees to give up all its nuclear arms programs.

The statement also said Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Yoon agreed to “maintain a U.S. troop presence” in South Korea. There are currently about 33,000 U.S. troops in the country, and the number will go down to 29,500 by the end of the year.

Mr. Rumsfeld said there are no further plans to cut troops.

The defense secretary also met yesterday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun at the Blue House, as the presidential offices are called.

Mr. Roh told Mr. Rumsfeld that the defense secretary’s recent trip to China was “very meaningful” and was important for Northeast Asia and the world.

“It was a useful thing to have done,” Mr. Rumsfeld said of his two days of meetings with Chinese military and political leaders.

At a town hall-style meeting at the U.S. Army’s Yongsan Garrison, Mr. Rumsfeld praised a group of about 1,000 troops for their service in Korea.

He also thanked South Korea’s military for sending about 3,000 troops to take part in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and said he welcomed South Korea’s efforts to “transform its forces and take on more responsibility.”

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