A day after discussions about possibly shifting U.S. forces in South Korea and Seoul's dispatch of more troops to Iraq, top U.S. defense officials inspected U.S. and South Korean troops. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told troops that the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea is the "border between freedom and slavery."
Mr. Rumsfeld made the comments Tuesday at a U.S. air base in South Korea, before ending his three-day trip to the country. Earlier in the day, he gave the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division a pep talk at the American Army's main base near the heavily fortified DMZ.
The U.S. Joint Chief of Staff General Richard Myers has accompanied Mr. Rumsfeld on this trip to South Korea. On Tuesday, he watched as a South Korean special forces unit demonstrated the martial art of taekwondo and conducted a parachute demonstration.
The troop visits come a day after Mr. Rumsfeld and South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil agreed to a phased relocation of 15,000 U.S. infantry troops away from the border with North Korea.
Mr. Rumsfeld says any changes in troop locations or numbers will not weaken their ability to help repel an attack from North Korea. "They will leave the alliance stronger with a healthier deterrent, and a healthier capability of defending, let there be no doubt."
Mr. Rumsfeld and Defense Minister Cho also discussed plans to move the U.S. military headquarters out of Seoul. The two governments have been planning the move for more than a decade, in part to ease friction between the residents around the headquarters base and the U.S. troops. The move, however, has long been delayed, in part by the struggle to find adequate land for a new base south of the city.
During his trip, Mr. Rumsfeld has insisted there are no plans for the Pentagon to withdraw any troops from the country.
The United States has maintained military bases in South Korea since the Korean War, to deter a possible attack by North Korea. Defense experts estimate that nearly three-quarters of North Korea's 1.1 million troops are deployed close to the Demilitarized Zone.
An armistice in 1953 ended fighting in the war, but a peace treaty has never been signed, meaning the two Koreas are still technically at war.
The annual security consultative meeting also touched on South Korean plans to send 3,000 more troops to Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld expressed appreciation for Seoul's decision to send additional soldiers to help the U.S. led reconstruction in Iraq. He withheld further comment because the South Korean government has yet to announce details, including when they might be dispatched. Washington reportedly wanted South Korea to send more than 5,000 combat troops to Iraq.