Weird events in S. Korea
Well, that's an about face.
South Korea, in Surprise, Demands U.S. Forces Stay in Place
By DON KIRK
EOUL, South Korea, March 7 — Officials here said today that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had ignored them in suggesting realignment of American forces in Korea and demanded that they stay where they are at least until resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.
South Korea's newly installed defense minister, Cho Young Kil, said Washington "has never officially informed us of the movement of U.S. troops" and "the withdrawal issue was never raised by the U.S. government."
Indeed, said Mr. Cho, talking to members of South Korea's fractious National Assembly, American and South Korean officials "will not discuss any possibility of movement of U.S. troops before the nuclear issue is resolved."
The demand for American troops to stay comes as a shock to United States officials, who had assumed they were responding to commonly held Korean thinking by pushing ahead with plans for shifting the American military posture.
The South Korean response indicated the sensitivities here regarding the role of United States troops as the new government of President Roh Moo Hyun settles into power amid a nuclear crisis that shows no sign of ending any time soon.
Assuming that anti-American demonstrations in recent months verified the desire of many Koreans for American troops either to go home or to assume a much less visible presence, United States military strategists have been drafting elaborate plans for pulling them back or withdrawing many of them entirely.
Against this background, Mr. Rumsfeld said on Thursday that he envisioned a plan under which American forces would provide mainly air and naval support while South Korean troops guarded against North Korean forces massed above the line between the two Koreas.
Mr. Rumsfeld, at the Pentagon, suggested that the alternatives were between pulling American troops to positions south of Seoul, reducing the number of United States troops in Korea, or both. Those choices, he said, were "the kinds of things that are being sorted out."
South Korean officials, however, viewed Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks as an unsettling revelation that was entirely news to them. All they know about, they said, was a plan announced last year for American troops to leave some minor bases in the interests of tactical efficiency.
"Rumsfeld made some wording that was not discussed fully," said a foreign ministry spokesman, in understated politeness. "We should understand each other. There will be more intense discussions."
The South Korean response appeared to represent a swing of the pendulum away from suggestions in recent months that the United States scale back its forces and reconsider basic defense arrangements.
"Anything that would leave the impression the United States was backing out would send the wrong signal," said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "At this point it doesn't make sense either to do it or talk about it."
South Koreans have not altered their pleas for a "more mature, equal partnership," as demanded by President Roh, but are turning that demand into another reason for the United States to keep all 37,000 troops in Korea, the majority between here and the North Korean frontier.
"We agree it's a critical issue," said Song Young Gil, a National Assembly member from Mr. Roh's Millennium Democratic Party. "After the nuclear crisis is solved, at that time we will consult on this problem."
Mr. Song shared a view, increasingly heard here, that any American proposal to move troops from near the line with North Korea may mean that the United States intends to attack North Korean nuclear facilities against the wishes of the South Korean government. The logic behind this thinking is that the United States would want its troops out of harm's way in case North Korean ground forces retaliated by striking across the demilitarized zone.
"American troops are something like hostages to attack by North Korea," said Mr. Song. "Maybe this kind of action means some kind of signal for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea."
For much the same reason, Mr. Song also opposed proposals to withdraw American forces from the large headquarters area that they have occupied in Seoul since the Korean War.
"When North Koreans attack Seoul, automatically American troops will be involved just in time to react," he said. "So they can prevent North Korean attack."
In any case, "We ask Secretary Rumsfeld, do not withdraw American troops at this time," said Mr. Song. "If the alliance is equal, Americans should heed the voice of the Korean government."
The commander of United States Forces in Korea, Gen. Leon LaPorte, talking to Korean journalists on Thursday, sympathized with the desire to move American forces from Seoul, estimating that perhaps 300 troops would stay behind to staff a joint American and South Korean headquarters.
Maj. Gen. James Soligan of the Air Force, deputy chief of staff, said at the same gathering, "We're looking at a number of options," including possible withdrawal of the 2nd Infantry division. The 16,000 troops of the divison are stationed at bases between here and the North Korean frontier, 30 miles away.
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