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US, S. Korea Hold Talks on Military Alliance - 2003-04-08

Talks are under way in Seoul between South Korean and U-S officials concerning their military alliance. One topic on the agenda is the possible redeployment of 37,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in the country. The talks come as concerns continue about North Korea's nuclear programs.

South Korea's chief negotiator, Lieutenant General Cha Young-ku, said Tuesday the talks are aimed at creating a more forward-looking alliance between the countries.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless heads the U.S. delegation. He has said the Pentagon wants to make the presence of American troops less intrusive in the daily lives of the Korean people.

The United States has had troops in South Korea for more than 50 years. Many younger South Koreans, with no memory of the war in the 1950s between the South and the communist North, oppose the U.S. bases, which include a large garrison in the heart of the capital, Seoul. Critics of the bases say they take up valuable land, cause pollution and have created problems such as crime.

South Korea's government has long regarded the American forces, especially units based near the border with the North, as a tripwire that would automatically bring the United States in to help should North Korea invade again.

One South Korean newspaper, the Joong-An Daily, has quoted government sources as saying Mr. Lawless will present plans to pull U.S. troops away from the border area later this year. But South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun does not appear to want the United States to make any quick decisions about shifting troops during the current standoff with North Korea.

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula since October, when the United States said North Korea admitted having a banned nuclear weapons program. Since then, North Korea has withdrawn from the global nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and restarted an idled nuclear facility. It also has flown fighter jets into South Korean airspace and test fired missiles into the sea.

North Korea says the United States plans to invade it. Washington repeatedly has denied that charge and says it wants to resolve the dispute peacefully. However, the United States has beefed up its forces in Asia, saying it wants to deter Pyongyang from making any hostile moves.