US, South Korea hail North's nuclear pledge
Updated: 2005-10-21 15:22
US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his South Korean counterpart on
Friday hailed a promise by North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, but they
also cited "causes of significant concern" in the North's continued development
of long-range missiles.
Rumsfeld also affirmed the US commitment to maintain a troop presence in
South Korea, and he bristled at a suggestion that South Koreans increasingly
believe they would be better off without the Americans.
"The Republic of Korea, an impoverished and devastated nation over a
half-century ago, now has one of the world's most powerful economies and is an
important democracy with a large and increasingly capable armed force," Rumsfeld
told a news conference following 2 1/2 hours of annual defense talks.
These changing circumstances make it important for South Korea to take on a
greater share of the burden for its own defense, Rumsfeld said, but Koreans
should not dismiss the value of U.S. support.
"The United States of America has invested the lives of a great many
Americans in helping the Republic of Korea to be free," he said in a joint
appearance with South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung.
"We are a part of this alliance at the request of the Republic of Korea's
government," he added.
In a joint statement issued after their talks, the U.S. and South Korean
defense officials welcomed Pyongyang's promise in six-party talks to abandon its
development of nuclear weapons, but added that concerns remain.
"Both sides noted that North Korea's continued development of weapons of mass
destruction and long-range missiles, along with the danger of proliferation of
those weapons and technologies, are causes of significant concern," the
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,
right, talks with South Korea's Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-Ung at the
start of the 37th Security Consultative Meeting with at the Ministry of
Defense on Friday, Oct. 21, 2005 in
It said they were hopeful it would "facilitate the verifiable nuclear
dismantlement in order to realize the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula
at the earliest opportunity."
During the talks, Rumsfeld and Yoon agreed to "appropriately accelerate
discussions on command relations and wartime operational control." Seoul has
been seeking control of the joint command of US as well as South Korean troops
here during wartime, which traditionally has been in US control.
Rumsfeld said the US welcomes efforts by Korea to "take on more
responsibility," but he reaffirmed on behalf of the United States its "continued
provision of a nuclear umbrella" for Korea. That is a promise, also made to
Japan, to use the US strategic nuclear arsenal as a deterrent force ¡ª or as an
offensive weapon, if necessary ¡ª to preserve the South's independence.
The Pentagon has begun pulling thousands of US troops out of South Korea,
where it has maintained a contingent of about 37,000 troops for decades amid
concerns that North Korea might attempt to reunite the two Koreas by
launching an attack.
Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, commander of US forces in Korea, told reporters
Thursday evening that by the end of this year 8,000 of the 12,500 troops
designated for withdrawal will have left South Korea.
Rumsfeld was asked during Friday's news conference whether Washington wanted
to make further cuts.
"I know of no plans to do that," he replied.
Before the meeting Friday, Rumsfeld visited the cemetery where the Korean War
dead are buried. He laid a wreath and paid respects in silence for a few
The US-South Korean defense alliance dates to the 1950-53 Korean War in which
the United States and other UN member nations intervened on the South's side.
Substantial numbers of American troops have remained in South Korea since the
war ended in a cease-fire. In recent years they have handed to the South Korean
military more of the key missions designed to deter the North from invading and
for preparing defenses in the event that deterrence failed.
LaPorte said that although the North is hampered by a weak economy and
limited fuel resources, it remains capable of launching an attack that
potentially could kill large numbers in the South.
"The North Korean threat has not changed," LaPorte said.