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S. Korea, US Fail to Reach Agreement on Troop Withdrawal - 2004-08-20


Talks between the United States and South Korea concluded Friday without Seoul winning a desired delay of a drastic American troop cut.

Defense officials from both countries told reporters that the matter was not resolved, after two days of discussions in Seoul.

South Korea's government is pushing the United States to go slow on a plan to pull out one-third of its 37,000 troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula.

Defense analysts says the South Koreans, worried about the intentions of communist North Korea, want adequate time to prepare for the U.S. draw down.

Officials from the United States and South Korea say the dispute about the timetable will now be referred to a meeting of defense chiefs scheduled for October.

A former political aide to two South Korean presidents, Choong Nam Kim, says despite frequent anti-American protests in South Korea, there is still strong support in the country for the presence of U.S. forces.

"Public opinion is divided but still [a] majority of South Korean people believe that the U.S.-ROK alliance and U.S. presence is fundamental and essential," he said.

Mr. Kim, an analyst at the East West Center in Hawaii, adds the South Korean military is quite dependent on its ally because its forces come under U.S. command if North Korea attacks.

U.S. officials say the troop reduction will not hurt defenses against North Korea because Washington plans to spend $11 billion on new weapons for its remaining forces in South Korea.

The changes are part of a global realignment plan by the United States to make its military more flexible and mobile.

This week President George Bush announced that about 70,000 troops would eventually be pulled out of Europe and Asia.

Earlier this month, some 3,600 troops were sent from South Korea to Iraq. U.S. officials say they will not return to South Korea.

The Defense Ministry in Seoul says U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke with South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung by phone early Friday. Mr. Rumsfeld reportedly said he hoped the talks would go smoothly so the troop reduction could be implemented as scheduled.

North Korea on Friday warned that annual war games by the United States and South Korea jeopardize the six-party talks about Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

The comments were attributed to a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman. The official also said the war games would force Pyongyang to raise the "quality and quantity" of its own military deterrent. Many analysts think North Korea uses that phrase to refer to nuclear weapons.

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