Note: I think this story gives some interesting background on the topic of U.S. troop deployment in Korea and the communications between the U.S. and South Korea regarding our presence there. ~Patriot
South Korean officials said yesterday the Seoul government has not discussed with the U.S. government a possible withdrawal of American troops.
The latest controversy erupted when some South Korean media reported that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Washington was willing to pull American troops out of Korea when he met President-elect Roh Moo-hyun’s special envoy in Washington Monday.
Special envoy Rep. Chyung Dai-chul and Defense and Foreign ministries flatly denied the reports.
“I am the one who met with Rumsfeld. He did not mention a withdrawal or reduction of U.S. forces stationed in the South,” Chyung said in an interview with a local radio program.
Chyung is currently in Tokyo to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
In Washington, he also Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“Cheney did not make such a comment, either,” Chyung said.
He said Rumsfeld suggested that the two countries discuss relocating some American military bases in populated areas including the Yongsan Base in downtown Seoul, as well as the Land Partnership Plan, a pact on land use related to the U.S. military presence here.
“Rumsfeld emphasized the need for strengthening the Korea-U.S. alliance by taking those steps, and I agreed that the issues can be addressed between military authorities of the two sides after President-elect Roh takes office (on Feb. 25),” Chyung said.
An official from the South’s Defense Ministry also stressed there have been no discussions between the two sides on paring down the 37,000 American soldiers here since a number of troops was withdrawn in the early 1990s.
“We have never discussed the issue, though we have kept up consultations on the future of the U.S. troops stationed in the South,” the official said.
The denials, however, have failed to quell the controversy, as South Korean sources have quoted U.S. officials as saying that Washington may pull its military out if South Korea requests.
Rep. Hahm Seung-hee of the Millennium Democratic Party said early this month that he heard from senior U.S. officials that the military withdrawal was seriously considered in Washington.
“The Seoul government is taking this too lightly when the United States is seriously discussing the issue,” Hahm said after his trip to Washington.
But MDP Chairman Hahn Hwa-kap, who led the party delegation to the United States, denied such remarks from U.S. officials.
According to Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis, Rumsfeld mentioned that the United States can withdraw its forces if the South Korean people so desire, though added that is a very general remark.
Seoul officials played down the remarks saying that it is based on a presumption of Seoul’s consent.
They worried that the controversies concerning the troop reduction will have a negative influence on the Seoul-Washington alliance, which is essential in resolving the North’s nuclear issue.
“We should be cautious in raising the issue of the U.S. troop withdrawal because it can present a misleading sign to North Korea” a government official said.