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New South Korean Defense Paper Softens Description of North


South Korea's defense department has updated a key White Paper dealing with North Korea to reflect a more conciliatory attitude - while leaving no doubts that it would try to deter any possible attack.

The document, released Friday, drops 10-year-old references to North Korea as the "main enemy" of South Korea, instead describing the Communist state as a "direct military threat." The revisions to the White Paper, the first in four years, reflect South Korea's policy of seeking to engage the North peacefully.

At the same time, the document says the United States would commit 690,000 military personnel, supported by about 2,000 war planes should North Korea attack.

The paper says that commitment would require 70 percent of all U.S. Marines, half of the U.S. Air Force, and 40 percent of the U.S. Navy, plus thousands of Army troops, to defend South Korea.

Kim Yong-kyu, a spokesman for U.S. Forces in Korea, confirms that contingency plan, but says the troops would not arrive at once. "This reinforcement number [would] not be deployed at one time," he said. "They have it in three stages."

The span of time for the three stages, says Mr. Kim, would depend on the nature and intensity of the conflict.

The numbers outlined in the paper would be more than four times the U.S. force presence in Iraq. Kim Tae-woo, a senior fellow at the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses, says that is because a conflict with North Korea would be extremely demanding. "The North Korean military forces are much larger and stronger," he said.

Mr. Kim says North Korea has at least 13,000 artillery pieces and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries, and he notes the Korean peninsula's mountainous terrain would make fighting more difficult than in Iraq. Mr. Kim also says the North has more than one million active duty troops.

The United States says it does not intend to attack North Korea. It has maintained an active military presence in South Korea since North Korea invaded it in 1950.

U.S. and South Korean authorities are in talks to realign U.S. forces on the peninsula. Washington began reducing troop levels in South Korea last year to about 32,000, saying it wants to make the force lighter and more able to defend the broader region.

On the diplomatic front, the United States and its Asian allies are trying to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. U.S. and South Korean officials say they are optimistic a new round of multilateral talks on those programs will be scheduled soon.