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U.S., South Korean Officials to Discuss Security, Force Realignment

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2006 – U.S. and South Korean defense leaders will meet here tomorrow for the 38th U.S.-Korean Security Consultative Meeting, discussing the current security situation in the region, North Korea’s nuclear test, realignment of U.S. forces in Korea, the evolution of the alliance, and expanded security cooperation, a senior defense official said today.

As in years past, the U.S. will reaffirm its commitment to defending South Korea using any means, the official said, speaking on background. The U.S. and South Korea will issue a joint communique affirming that commitment, consistent with the mutual defense treaty the two countries have, the official said. The language of that communique will not change, he said, but will echo the strong commitment the U.S. has made for almost 30 years.

There has been speculation about whether the U.S. will change its policy of deterrence based on North Korea’s recent nuclear tests, the official said, but he stressed that the policy that has been in place is strong and will stay consistent.

South Korea has long held a strong commitment not to develop nuclear weapons, and U.S. officials are confident the country will keep this commitment, the official said. That commitment was established by the 1992 Denuclearization Agreement on the Korean Peninsula, which specifically prohibits not only developing and maintaining nuclear weapons, but also reprocessing and uranium enrichment, and the South Korean government has repeatedly reaffirmed that commitment, he said.

Another issue that will be discussed tomorrow is the process of turning over operational control of Korean forces in wartime to South Korea. U.S. and South Korean officials have reached full agreement on what the new command structure will look like, and will issue a statement outlining that, but the date when the transition will happen is still in the air, the official said. The U.S. has a plan to make the transition by 2009, but South Korea does not want to take the responsibility until 2012, he said.

Because the U.S.-South Korean alliance is the one of the most integrated alliances in the world, the issue of a nuclear North Korea already has been addressed and the alliance is prepared to deal with it, the official said. The two countries do exercises and hold discussions constantly, so wartime plans already are set, he said.

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