The US has agreed to slow a proposed drawdown of its military presence in South Korea, stretching it out until at least 2008 in response to what it called "the Korean publics perceptions regarding a potential security gap," the Department of Defense announced early yesterday. \nA final accord spelling out conditions for the withdrawal of 12,500 US troops provides for three pullout phases, the last of which will be completed in 2008. \n"Inclusive in this redeployment is the 2nd Brigade Combat Team that was sent to Iraq in August," the department said in a statement. \nThis unit will be at the center of the first phase of the redeployment that will involve a total of about 5,000 troops, including some of the brigade's supporting units, that will leave South Korea before the end of this year, according to the plan. \nDMZ DEPLOYMENTS \nAnother 5,000-strong contingent comprising combat and support units will be removed sometime next year and 2006. \nIn the third and final phase that will fall on 2007 and 2008, the US will redeploy from South Korea 2,500 military personnel consisting primarily of auxiliary services, defense officials pointed out. \nBut the US military will keep its a multiple launch rocket system battalion "and associated counter-fire assets" deployed in the proximity of the demilitarized zone and designed to counter hundreds of North Korea artillery pieces on the other side of the border threatening the South Korean capital, Seoul. \nThe US has also agreed to review stockpiles of its military equipment pre-positioned on the peninsula that will enable the two countries to bolster their capabilities in case of a conflict "and make adjustments as appropriate," the officials said. \nAt the same time, it will continue to implement an US$11 billion investment program aimed at enhancing US strategic capabilities on the peninsula and in the region. \n"Throughout these consultations, the United States has made clear that it remains committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea, to the security and stability of the region and to a strengthened Republic of Korea-US alliance," the Pentagon statement said. \nSTRONG FUTURE \nIt noted that the future of the alliance was "strong" and will be "adaptive to change and responsive to the needs of the Korean people." \nThe US plan to pare down a 37,000-strong force that has been stationed in South Korea for decades was initially announced in June, sparked concern on both sides of the Pacific. \nIn related news, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said yesterday he expected an early settlement of the controversy over South Korea's nuclear experiments, praising Seoul for cooperating fully with the probe. \nMohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said the agency would dispatch one or two more teams this month to look into South Korea's past record of clandestine nuclear tests. \n"We have not seen any cover-up," ElBaradei told a news conference. \n"We are getting good cooperation from the South Korean government." \nNorth Korea, citing concern about Seoul's nuclear experiments among other issues, has put on hold multilateral talks aimed at defusing tensions over its own atomic weapons drive.
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