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U.S. Welcomes Talks With South Korea to 'Rebalance' Forces

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2003 – The United States welcomes South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's proposal to discuss "rebalancing" the relationship between the two countries, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said today.

"We're happy to accept his invitation to have serious discussions about how we are arranged and how we might rebalance that relationship," Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon news conference.

Rumsfeld met Feb. 2 with Roh's special envoy, Chung Dai-il. The secretary stressed discussions will take place in such a way that they do not destabilize that area of the world.

"The United States remains committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea and to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a DoD spokesman. Davis said the alliance has kept the peace in Korea for 50 years and will continue to do so in the future.

Rumsfeld said he is looking at ways to reconfigure the "footprint" of U.S. forces in Korea. During Feb. 13 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said he would like to see U.S. forces move away from the Seoul area and the demilitarized zone. He noted the forces would "be more oriented toward an air hub and a sea hub, with the ability to reinforce so there's still a strong deterrent, and possibly, with our improved capabilities of moving people, some of those forces may come back home."

During today's news conference, Rumsfeld reiterated the desire to move troops out of Seoul. "Having a large foreign military presence in a large thriving metropolis like that is not really the best way to do it," he said. "It would be like having them in Washington, D.C., or Chicago, or New York: Everyone bumps up against each other."

The United States will wait for discussions until after Roh is inaugurated Feb. 25 and the new South Korean security team comes together. But even with these waits, there may be solid proposals in time for the U.S.-Republic of Korea Security Consultative Talks in December.

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