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SKorea, US concerned about NKorean missiles

by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Nov 7, 2007
North Korea's development of long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction pose a threat although the country has started disabling its nuclear reactor, US and South Korean officials said Wednesday.

A US team began overseeing work on Monday to dismantle the reactor at Yongbyon, the first step in a denuclearisation pact that also requires Pyongyang to make a full accounting of its nuclear facilities and activities.

"We are starting on a path but we are far from reaching our destination," US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said at a news conference after annual US-South Korean security talks with South Korean Defence Minister Kim Jang-Soo.

In a joint statement, the defence chiefs agreed, however, "that North Korea's continued development of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and long-range missiles, along with the danger of the proliferation, were a challenge to the ROK (South Korea)-US alliance."

Gates said last week that North Korea had supplied Iran with missiles with a potential range of 2,500 kilometres (1,562 miles).

Asked whether the United States believes that North Korea also had transferred nuclear technology to Syria, Gates declined to comment, saying it involved intelligence matters.

Israel launched an air strike on September 16 on a site in Syria that experts believe may have been a North Korean-style nuclear reactor under construction.

"North Korea's nuclear and conventional threats remain a focal point of our alliance," Gates told reporters.

Kim said its neighbour continues to seek the purchase of asymmetrical weapons.

"Therefore, we cannot conclude that the threat from North Korea has been reduced," he said.

The North, which staged a nuclear test in October 2006, is disabling its nuclear programme as part of a six-nation accord. It has not yet agreed to arrangements for handing over its plutonium stockpile and any other nuclear devices.

If it satisfies all criteria, including the declaration of all weapons, North Korea can be removed from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

The United States has accused North Korea of being a leading global proliferator of missiles. But the cash-strapped country has refused to stop the exports, a major source of hard currency earnings.

In July last year it test-fired seven missiles, including the Taepodong-2, which in theory could reach the US west coast.

Gates reaffirmed Washington's commitment to provide a nuclear umbrella for South Korea, the joint statement said. He also thanked Seoul for its troop contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If it secures parliamentary backing, the Seoul government will extend the stay of its troops in Iraq until December 2008 but halve the contingent's size from the current 1,250.

The country's troops are due to leave Afghanistan by year-end.

The US has stationed tens of thousands of troops in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Their numbers are being cut as part of a global realignment and they are being moved away from the heavily fortified border to assume a back-up role.

Currently, some 28,000 US troops support the South's 680,000 soldiers against any threat from North Korea's 1.1 million-strong military. Washington plans to scale back its forces to 25,000 by 2008.

Gates said US troops would continue to play a role on the peninsula "for a long time" even after Washington returns wartime control over South Korea's military to Seoul in 2012.

"The Secretary reaffirmed that the US will continue to provide significant bridging capabilities until (South Korea) obtains full self-defence capabilities," the joint statement said.

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Military Matters: The 'Long War' trap
Washington (UPI) Nov 5, 2007
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