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Rumsfeld in Seoul for Security Talks - 2003-11-17

The U.S. Defense Secretary is in Seoul for security talks on plans to realign the global U.S. military presence. Donald Rumsfeld and South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil also pledged to keep up a strong joint defensive capability in the face of North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

After meeting with the South Korean defense minister, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that any change in the American military posture in Northeast Asia would improve U.S. capabilities in the region. He stressed that this did not necessarily mean an increase in troops - a sensitive issue in South Korea where the public holds mixed views on the presence of 37,000 U.S. soldiers. He spoke Monday during a news conference with South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil.

"It is not numbers of things, it is capability to impose lethal power where needed, when needed, with the greatest flexibility and with the greatest agility," he says. "And whatever adjustments are made, will be made in the closest consultation with the government of Korea and second, they will leave the alliance stronger."

The United States is planning a global military realignment, and Secretary Rumsfeld is in South Korea for two days of consultations on how these plans could affect bilateral ties. He will also visit U.S. troops in the country. The defense secretary just completed a similar visit to Japan, another key regional ally.

In a statement issued Monday, Mr. Rumsfeld and Defense Minister Cho called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. They pledged to maintain strong defenses to deter North Korea from using or selling its nuclear weapons.

Both governments are trying to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons programs, which violate several international accords.

The United States sided with the South against the North in the Korean War in the early 1950's. Fighting in the war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, and the border between North and South Korea remains one of the most heavily fortified frontiers in the world. The United States has since maintained a large force on the Korean Peninsula to prevent a new outbreak of hostilities.

The defense secretary also said he would respect South Korea's decision on sending troops to help the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq. Last week, the South Korean government decided to limit its troop deployment to Iraq to three thousand troops, far below the number Washington had hoped for.

The Iraq issue, as well as local dissatisfaction with the large U.S. bases in South Korea led hundreds of people to protest Mr. Rumsfeld's visit. The protests, however, were largely peaceful.