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South Korea, U.S. Discuss North's Nukes, Forces Agreement

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2002 – The threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and missile technology was the main topic of the 34th Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting, held here Dec. 4 and 5.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and South Korean Minister of National Defense Lee Jun spoke to the press following their meetings.

Rumsfeld said the men discussed the threat North Korea continues to pose and the fact that North Korea is pursuing nuclear weapons and continues to be "the most active proliferator" of ballistic missile technology in the world.

The minister said through a translator that the security environment on the Korean Peninsula is changing rapidly.

"In general, Korea and the United States harbor concurrent views on the North Korea nuclear issue," Lee said. "It is a serious problem that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia and the world. This can be tolerated under no circumstances.

"Now that North Korea has confessed to developing nuclear weapons, I believe that (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Il must assume full responsibility in resolving this issue in a verifiable manner."

He stated there is no indication that North Korea is ready to start retesting intercontinental ballistic missiles, now, but said that the North has told Japan it might reconsider the moratorium on tests.

Both men agreed diplomacy is the best way to move the issue forward. They said Russia, China, Japan and the European Union must help the United States and the Republic of Korea move the North toward peace.

"Only time will tell what progress might be achieved, but there is no question but that situation in North Korea is very serious: They have violated several agreements and are proceeding on a very dangerous course," Rumsfeld said.

During the meetings, Rumsfeld and Lee spoke about a current "hot button" issue between the United States and South Korea -- the deaths of two teen-age girls during a training exercise in June. At the press conference, Rumsfeld repeated what he told the minister in the meetings.

"We regret the death of the two Korean girls who were killed during a military training exercise last June," he said. "Our thoughts and our prayers are with their families."

The United States and the Republic of Korea are working closely together to prevent future such tragedies, Rumsfeld said. Two Americans were charged with manslaughter in the deaths of the girls. A U.S. court-martial cleared the soldiers, which led to demonstrations against the U.S. presence in the country.

Factions in Korea called for changing the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and South Korea to allow the Koreans to try the soldiers. The men discussed the Status of Forces Agreement during the meeting. The accident was tragic, but changing the SOFA would not have prevented it.

"The SOFA was revised two years ago," Rumsfeld said. "We see it as a mutually beneficial agreement and we could not see any way that any change in it could have avoided the accident."

Rumsfeld and Lee stressed the relationship between the United States and South Korea remains solid. "The friendship that exists between the United States and the Republic of Korea is deep and longstanding, as is the alliance that has kept the peace on the Korean Peninsula for some five decades," he said.

Rumsfeld thanked the minister for Korea's help in the global war on terrorism and in helping to reconstruct Afghanistan.

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