South Korean officials say they have been notified by the United States that the Pentagon plans to redeploy some of its troops on the Korean peninsula to Iraq.
A senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official, Kim Sook, told reporters on Monday that Washington has informed Seoul the troops will be sent to Iraq to cope with the worsening situation there. Mr. Kim says the two allies are in the early stage of talks working out the details, including the size and timing of the movement.
The United States maintains nearly 40,000 troops in South Korea to serve as a deterrent against North Korea's military, which numbers more than one million.
The U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division with 14,000 soldiers is based closest to the border with North Korea. Some of its troops are among those likely to be sent to Iraq.
U.S. military officials in South Korea and at the Pentagon said they could not comment on the matter. Some media reports say the deployment could begin in a few weeks with about four thousand soldiers.
South Korea itself is planning to send three thousand troops to Iraq. That deployment was delayed last month because of apparent differences between Washington and Seoul on where the troops should be based. South Korea already has several hundred army engineers and medics in Iraq.
Many South Korean legislators and a majority of the public in the country want President Roh Moo-hyun to reconsider the mission.
Some defense analysts speculate the U.S. move could result in the first stage of a long-term plan to permanently reduce the size of its force in South Korea.
Mr. Kim, in South Korea's Foreign Ministry, says it is too early to speculate on whether the troops will return to South Korea after their mission is complete in Iraq.
The U.S. military recent sent the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force from Japan to Iraq. A spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan says there are no additional announcements at this time regarding further U.S. troop dispatches from Japan.
The United States now has 135,000 soldiers in Iraq.
Japan on Monday sent two naval destroyers to the Arabian Sea to support the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism. They will replace two ships already in the region. Also on Monday, more than one hundred Japanese soldiers returned home after three months in Iraq.