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US, SKorea Discuss Wartime Command Of Forces, Nuclear Guarantee

"The United States is willing to discuss those issues," General Leon Laporte said.

Seoul (AFP) Oct 20, 2005
The United States and South Korea discussed shifting roles for the US military here, including who should have operational command of forces in wartime and whether to soften a US pledge to provide a nuclear umbrella, a top US general said Thursday.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived here from China for annual defense consultations, which close Friday with a joint communique that in past years has included the US guarantee to extend its nuclear protection over South Korea.

General Leon Laporte, the commander of US forces in South Korea, said the language on the nuclear pledge was the subject of last minute talks between Rumsfeld's policy team and the South Korean defense ministry.

"I think that's being discussed right now between OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) policy and MND (Ministry of National Defense) policy," he said.

"So that'll get worked out here I think in the next two hours," he told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld.

The issue has come up now because the United States said in September it had no intention to invade or attack North Korea with nuclear or conventional weapons as part of a statement of principles under which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear programs.

US and South Korean defense officials also were wrestling with a recent suggestion by President Roh Moo-hyun that he intends to assert operational control over South Korean forces in wartime.

Under the existing mutual defense pact, operational control over South Korean forces would fall under a US general in wartime.

"It's natural to want to go back and review decisions and find out are they appropriate for today, and are they appropriate for the future. And that's the issue," Laporte said.

"The United States is willing to discuss those issues," he said.

He added however that the South Koreans have not said exactly when they envision assuming wartime operational command, and suggested that any change in the command relationships would likely be further in the future.

The general said that as commander of the Combined Forces Command Korea he already receives directives from a committee consisting of the US and South Korean defense ministers.

"Right now we have a very strong force. But that force also can evolve over time," he said. "I don't envision any changes in the Combined Forces Command in the near future."

The 680,00-strong South Korean military has assumed responsibility for numerous missions over the past two years that previously were carried out exclusive by the 37,000 US troops in South Korea.

The US force, meanwhile, has dropped in size by 8,000 troops and will shrink to 25,000 by 2008, he said.

Laporte said the threat from North Korea remains unchanged.

But he acknowledged that incidents along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the peninsula were down noticeably in the past 12 to 18 months, which he attributed in part to the fact that it is reaping benefits from South Korea's "sunshine policy."

"It appears they are being less provocative. It doesn't mean the disposition of forces has changed. But the incidents have been reduced," he said.

He said about 2,000 people a day now cross the border along two new rail and highway corridors linking South Korea to a resort where family reunions are held and to an industrial complex in North Korea.

"I think they have developed benefits from their engagement policy. And I think that is good. It does reduce tension and it provides tremendous interactions," he said.

"I think perhaps the North Koreans have realized they need assistance from South Korea. They do not want to cause problems with the economic initiatives that are ongoing."

"Perhaps they do not want incidents along the DMZ to be disfunctional to the six-party talks," he said, referring to talks on North Korea's nuclear programs that involve the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas.

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Rumsfeld Voices Concern Over Chinese Nuclear Arsenal
Beijing (AFP) Oct 20, 2005
China appears to be expanding its nuclear strike capability with missiles able to reach beyond the Pacific, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday, urging Beijing to shed more light on its intentions.

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