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US Troops Should Remain, Says S. Korean Prime Minister - 2003-03-06

South Korea's prime minister says American troops in his country should be left in place for the time being. The prime minister carried that message to the U.S. ambassador in Seoul the same day the United States flew several bombers to the western Pacific.

Aides say Prime Minister Goh Kun told U.S. Ambassdor Thomas Hubbard, "we should never weaken the deterrence capabilities of the U.S. military." The prime minister added that any discussion about moving troops should be delayed while tensions continue over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Ambassador Hubbard reportedly said that any redeployment of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea would be decided in talks between the two allies. He also said any troop movement would be done to enhance their ability to deter aggression.

Formal talks on the issue between Seoul and Washington are slated for next month.

The United States and South Korea have long agreed to move the U.S. military's headquarters out of Seoul. The U.S. commander in South Korea again confirmed the move is being planned.

The United States also is considering moving more of its troops away from the heavily armed border separating North and South Korea.

Tensions are increasing over North Korea's nuclear programs. In recent weeks, Pyongyang's military has committed a series of provocative acts, including short-range missile tests and the interception of a U.S. spy plane in international air space.

U.S. long-range bombers began landing on the American territory of Guam, about 3,200 kilometers south of the Korean Peninsula. A total of 24 B-1 and B-52 bombers are being moved from the U.S. mainland to strenghthen the U.S. military presence in Asia.

The United States says the bomber deployment is not an aggressive act, but rather a prudent measure given current global tensions.

The dispute over North Korea's nuclear programs has escalated since October, when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted having a banned nuclear weapons program. Since then, North Korea has restarted activities at a key nuclear facility.

North Korea says the United States plans to invade it, an allegation Washington has repeatedly denied. But the United States says it will not agree to Pyongyang's demand that it sign a non-aggression treaty, although it is open to holding talks with the North.