YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — At a time when the U.S.-South Korean alliance is buffeted by rising anti-Americanism, a nuclear standoff with North Korea and a U.S. request for South Korean combat troops in Iraq, the two nations marked their Mutual Defense Treaty’s 50th anniversary with a Tuesday ceremony.

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard and South Korean Minister of National Defense Cho Young-kil spoke at the hourlong ceremony, attended by more than 200 Korean War veterans.

And while much of the event was devoted to remembering the Korean and U.S. soldiers who fought the war and enforced the treaty, the present and future of the two countries’ relationship were presented as just as important.

“We should not only focus on the past,” Hubbard said in his remarks. “Our relationship rests as much on the future as on the past. Our future involves defending what we fought together for. … We move forward knowing we have overcome hardships together, that we share common interests and that we are mutually committed to democracy, free markets and peace.”

Cho mirrored Hubbard’s forward-looking sentiments by saying, “We should enhance our relationship by pursuing a future-oriented alliance between two countries.”

Hubbard addressed the U.S. request for South Korean combat troops as part of an international stabilization force in Iraq, saying South Korea’s place on the world stage and deployments to Afghanistan and East Timor should guide the decision.

“We are proud that Korea — whose own history represents a victory of democracy over aggression and tyranny — is part of the coalition giving the Iraqi people that chance,” Hubbard said.

“We warmly welcome Korean troops as our brothers in arms as we step up to today’s security challenges — the challenges of fighting terrorism and building a better world for all of us.”

In moving forward with the alliance, Hubbard said, two principles needed to be observed: Deterrence as a common defense posture and reducing unneeded burdens on both sides.

During a short news conference after the ceremony, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon LaPorte expounded on one of those principles.

Part of reducing the burden would be changing “the disposition of units and locations of units,” LaPorte said. “Today, because of technology, they can be disposed anywhere.”

At the end of the question period, LaPorte declined to discuss the ongoing debate about justification for war in Iraq, saying, “I am a commander. I don’t make policy, I implement policy.”

Earlier in the week, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun hosted USFK officials at a dinner to commemorate the treaty’s 50th anniversary. Roh called the U.S.-South Korean alliance one of the world’s strongest and said his country has a debt to repay.

“South Korea will be able to repay for the big help by contributing to the world peace,” Roh said.

He must decide whether to send thousands of South Korean combat troops to Iraq to support U.S. forces. Not sending troops could strain the U.S.-South Korean relationship, analysts have said — but sending troops could anger the South Korean public before spring’s parliamentary elections. Recent polls have shown up to two-thirds of South Koreans oppose the deployment.

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