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South Korea Seeks to Assume Wartime Control Of Its Military From US

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun is seeking talks with the United States on assuming command of South Korean forces from the United States in the event of war with North Korea. With the U.S. secretary of defense due to visit Seoul next week, South Korean officials say Washington has yet to respond to a request they made on the issue last month.

If a war with North Korea broke out, Washington's present agreement with South Korea says the United States would not only command its own forces but also South Korean troops as well.

The United States has 32,000 troops in South Korea, as part of efforts to deter North Korea from repeating its 1950 invasion of the South.

On Wednesday, Sun Mira, a spokeswoman for President Roh Moo-hyun, said Seoul has asked Washington for a change in that policy.

"The [South] Korean government has raised this issue of wartime operational control last month," said Sun Mira. "We have not received an official response from the U.S. government on this issue."

President Roh has said that ongoing reforms will produce a more advanced and autonomous South Korean military that can exercise wartime operational control over itself.

The issue of wartime command is likely to be on the table on October 21, when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in the South Korean capital.

President Roh has made clear for years he wants a reduced U.S. military role here. The U.S. troop presence is viewed by some South Koreans as hindering Seoul's policy of engagement and cooperation with North Korea. Experts say many South Koreans no longer feel threatened by the North, because of diplomatic breakthroughs and the North's weak economy.

Because of other needs elsewhere and changes to its operations, the United States already is beginning to scale back its forces and mission. Kim Young-kyu, a spokesman for the U.S. forces in Korea, says Washington for years has been handing more duties over to South Korean forces.

Mr. Kim says the United States transferred six major combat-related missions to South Korean forces several weeks ago. An additional four missions are due to be transferred next year.

Overall, U.S. authorities aim to reduce its force in South Korea to 25,000 by 2008.