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South Korea Resists US Troop Reduction - 2004-06-08

One day after the United States proposed a troop realignment on the Korean Peninsula, South Korean officials say the plans are not final. On Monday, the United States advanced a plan to withdraw about one-third of its troops from South Korea and move others away from the front-line on the North Korean border. According to the plan, the troop movements would be complete by the end of next year.

Two days of talks ended in Seoul with broad agreement on relocating U.S. troops away from the tense border and moving headquarters from Seoul to a new base about 110 kilometers south of the capital. Other points, such as who would pay for the relocation and its timing, have not been resolved.

Kim Tae-Woo, a military expert at the South Korean Institute for Defense Analysis, says a quick withdrawal of U.S. troops could upset the delicate balance of power between North and South Korea.

"Reduction of U.S. troops should take place according to our schedule to strengthen our own capability to deter North Korea," he said. "If the reduction occurs too quick, then balance will be destroyed."

The United States has about 37,000 troops in South Korea to deter North Korean attacks. Communist North Korea's Army has more than one million soldiers; nearly double that of South Korea.

The two Koreas signed a truce in 1953, but have never signed a peace treaty, making them still technically at war.

A State Department spokesman says the realignment will not effect America's commitments to South Korea's defense. He says the move is aimed to help the military better respond to 21st century threats.

China's foreign minister expressed support for the U.S. plan in principle, saying it would help "confidence building" in the region. China, which sided with the Communists during the Korean conflict, remains one of North Korea's few allies.

Mr. Kim says the troop realignment is only one issue between the United States and South Korea. He says of greater importance is the strength of their alliance.

"Everything hinges upon what kind of alliance we maintain. If we can recover a very firm alliance with the United States then even larger size reduction would be okay," said Mr. Kim. "But if the alliance continues to deteriorate, then numbers of U.S. soldiers staying here may mean nothing."

Talks on the troop redeployment began about 18 months ago. U.S. and South Korean officials say they need more time to narrow their differences.

The United States wants to conclude the talks before the end of the year because it needs fresh troops to send to Iraq.