US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday that plans to reposition US forces in South Korea would not diminish the American ability or commitment to deter communist North Korea.
Rumsfeld and South Korean Defense Minister Cho Young-kil, endorsed plans to reposition the 37,000 US troops stationed in the South, urged North Korea to scrap its nuclear arms program and to stop making and selling weapons of mass destruction.
Rumsfeld, winding up a trip to Japan and South Korea to discuss bilateral security and Pentagon plans to realign the US military global "footprint," sought to assure the South Koreans that they would not be left vulnerable to the North's large army.
"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 said.
The 50 year-old US-South Korean alliance has "been successful because we've had the ability to deter and defend and, if necessary, prevail and that has been been well understood," Rumsfeld told a news conference at the defense ministry in Seoul.
"I can assure you it will be well understood in the years ahead," he said.
Throughout his trip, Rumsfeld has insisted that there were no plans for a possible withdrawal of some of the troops in South Korea. Cho said troop cuts were not discussed at the annual Security Consultative Meeting yesterday.
The Pentagon has stressed that any move to draw down troops would keep forces poised to return and that it would be accompanied by other steps to increase deterrence. Washington has budgeted US$11 billion to beef up its equipment on the peninsula.
Rumsfeld was dogged by small but noisy protests yesterday by groups opposed to the Seoul government's plans to send troops to Iraq in support of the US-led military coalition there.
On Oct. 18, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun announced plans to send troops, but deferred his decision on the type and number of forces. Washington has asked for 5,000 or more troops, including combat forces.
An aide to Roh said the final decision would be made public yesterday, but no decision was announced. Rumsfeld said the call was South Korea's to make, and thanked Seoul for offering to augment the 675 medical and construction forces already in Iraq.
"Obviously, we would respect whatever decision this government makes," Rumsfeld said.