YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — While officials on both sides characterized the proposed redeployment of 12,500 American troops as unavoidable, South Korea and the United States will turn to the bargaining table to finalize a time line on the first major troop reduction on the Korean peninsula since 1992.

South Korea anticipated the proposal’s size but not the speed with which the United States wants it to occur, officials said Tuesday. The initial U.S. plan called for reductions to be completed by the end of next year; South Korean officials want it phased in over a longer period.

“The timetable is nothing but a suggestion from the United States, and we need to examine and negotiate it,” said Kwon Chin-ho, South Korea’s national security adviser.

“In the review process, we also need to closely consult on which U.S. troops in Korea should be moved. We’ve made the decision to let people know about what’s going on in the FOTA (Future of the Alliance) talks because we wanted to let them know as it is happening and proceed with the negotiations in a transparent manner. We also wanted to stave off possible misunderstanding and rumors involving the U.S. troop reduction talks.”

South Korean officials said they would mull the U.S. request, then make a counterproposal on everything from the timing to the size of the drawdown.

“No decision has been made on that because the United States just made its own suggestion. We’ve not yet reached the stage for presentation of our position,” Defense Minister Cho Young-kil said Tuesday.

According to several South Korean media reports, a senior U.S. official briefed selected national news outlets Tuesday afternoon on condition of anonymity. That official agreed the troop reduction plan was subject to consultations between the two governments and said the United States hopes for a final agreement within “a few months.”

On Monday, U.S. Forces Korea confirmed the proposal, saying the 12,500 troops included the 3,600 2nd Infantry Division soldiers slated for an Iraq deployment later this summer.

North Korea, meanwhile, greeted the troop-reduction announcement Tuesday by repeating its long-standing demand that all U.S. forces be withdrawn from South Korea.

South Korean officials — and the general public — worry about the shift in part because it comes at a crucial stage in the dispute over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

The troop reduction also could lead to other changes. According to a Tuesday report from the Yonhap news service, the two allies are discussing modifications in the military command systems that would operate during wartime.

In a policy paper released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, South Korean officials said bilateral discussions are under way to change the operational command structure for South Korean and U.S. troops; currently, the Combined Forces Command is headed by a U.S. four-star general, with a South Korean four-star as his deputy.

Almost forgotten among the troop reduction talks was the actual reason for the FOTA talks: settling details of both the closing of Yongsan Garrison and the consolidation and eventual relocation of 2nd Infantry Division units to bases south of Seoul.

Neither issue was finalized during this round of talks, though a previous outline agreement has all 7,000 U.S. troops — including USFK and the Combined Forces Command — moving out of Yongsan by 2007.

Final negotiations on “technical issues,” including a renegotiated agreement on who will pay for the move, have stalled conclusion of those talks. Last week, a South Korean government report estimated the moving costs at up to $4 billion.

Lt. Gen Kwan An-do, the lead South Korean delegate to the FOTA talks, confirmed that no agreements had been reached on either issue. The next round of discussions is scheduled for next month.

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