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Seoul Sees Role for US Forces Even After Formal Korean Peace

Senior South Korean officials say United States forces would likely remain in the country even if a potential peace agreement formally ending the 1950's Korean war is concluded. A treaty, along with the elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons, are key goals of the ongoing six-nation negotiations in Northeast Asia. VOA Correspondent Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

North Korea has always objected to the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea - currently numbering about 28,000 - and it regularly demands that they be withdrawn.

However, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told a security forum in Seoul Friday that even a formal peace treaty finally ending the Korean War would not spell the end of the U.S. military deployment here.

Song says the U.S. military will continue to stay on the Korean peninsula after the establishment of a peace regime. He says U.S. forces will play a role that suits what he describes as the new security environment in Northeast Asia.

The United States led a multinational force to repel North Korea after it invaded South Korea in 1950. An armistice ended fighting between North and South in 1953, but no formal peace treaty has ever been signed.

U.S. forces have been stationed in South Korea ever since, both to help enforce the terms of the 1953 armistice, and to deter North Korea from another invasion.

North and South Korea have improved ties since the two countries held their first summit in 2000. At a follow-up summit this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun pledged their two countries would work toward a formal peace.

But hanging over any talk of peace has been North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Pyongyang tested its first nuclear weapon in October of last year, and says it possesses several more weapons.

The North has since taken steps toward ending its nuclear ambitions, however. In the latest round of six-party talks in Beijing last month, it promised China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. it would declare and substantially disable all of its nuclear facilities by the end of the year.

Foreign Minister Song reaffirmed Friday that efforts to strike a peace are linked to eliminating the North's nuclear programs. He says Seoul is seeking to open negotiations on a peace regime at a time when progress is visible in North Korea's nuclear disablement.

Many South Korean officials and scholars support what is known as the "two-plus-two" model for Korean peace. North and South Korea would make some sort of formal peace declaration, which would then be backed up by China and the United States.

However, leaders of both China, which backed North Korea in the war, and the United States, which backed the South, have ruled out any formal peace agreement before North Korea's nuclear weapons are eliminated.