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Korea Security Meeting Filled with Hope, Realism

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, South Korea, Sept. 21, 2000 – The Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting held here is starting to address changes in the region resulting from the engagement between South and North Korea.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and South Korean Minister of National Defense Cho Song-tae assessed security on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia during their Sept. 21 meeting. Both said hope grows from the Inter-Korean Summit June 13-15, but both also said the U.S.-South Korean alliance must remain strong.

“Fifty years after the outbreak of the Korean War, the two Koreas have begun a process to replace confrontation with cooperation and fear with friendship,” Cohen said during a post-meeting news conference.

“We pledged to maintain a strong defense posture and close coordination on North Korea policies with a view to enhancing inter-Korean relations and joining our efforts for future changes on the Korean Peninsula,” Cho said. He noted the June summit would not have been possible without the strong defense provided by the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

Cohen called the summit momentous and said he hoped the dialogue leads to a lessening of military tensions along what is often called “the last Cold War border.” But North Korea maintains robust chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range missile programs, he said. He urged North Korea to abide by international conventions banning the production, possession and use of these weapons.

Cho said the United States and South Korea would set up a commission to study the security implications of the Korean rapprochement. Cohen said he expects U.S. service members to remain in the country for the foreseeable future.

Both ministers addressed ongoing negotiations over the U.S.-ROK Status of Forces Treaty. The United States has Status of Forces Agreements with about 80 countries. Among other things, SOFAs govern who has jurisdiction when U.S. service members commit crimes.

Korean officials want their SOFA to give them more authority over U.S. service members accused of crimes. Cohen and Cho said they were pleased by the progress of the negotiations. U.S. officials expect the SOFA to be ready by December.

The Security Consultative Meeting also highlighted the Land Partnership Plan. Under this, U.S. Forces Korea will work directly with the Korean government to consolidate U.S. units and installations. This would mean a substantial land return to the Korean government. While the plan pre-dates recent demonstrations against some U.S. ranges in South Korea, its implementation may address the protesters' concerns, USFK officials said.

It is an exciting time to be in Korea, Cohen said. But change can bring danger -- it is the yin and yang, a concept featured prominently on the Korean flag. The consultative meeting reaffirms the bedrock of the U.S.- Korean alliance.

“No one can come to Korea today without being excited about the hope of further benefits from reconciliation,” Cohen said. “But no one can leave Korea without an understanding that our combined forces must remain ready and vigilant -- and I assure you, they are that.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary William S. Cohen (center rear) and other U.S. and South Korean officials meet in Seoul, South Korea to discuss security on the Korean Peninsula. The warming relations between South and North Korea were a major topic of the Sept. 21 gathering. Photo by Jim Garamone.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary William S. Cohen and South Korean Minister of National Defense Cho Song-tae meet the press following their security meeting in Seoul, South Korea. A major topic of the Sept. 21 gathering was the changes in the region resulting from the recent summit between South and North Korea. Photo by Jim Garamone.  
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