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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. and South Korean negotiators ended two days of talks Friday by finalizing a deal to close Yongsan Garrison by 2008 and announcing the early closure of nine other U.S. bases, but they made little progress on an American proposal to remove 12,500 troops from the peninsula over the next year.

The 11th round of Future of the Alliance (FOTA) talks wrapped up with a joint press conference at the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, where officials from both sides characterized the meetings as a step forward.

“We believe we have made a very good beginning,” said Richard Lawless, deputy undersecretary of defense and the lead negotiator of a seven-member U.S. team.

No agreements were reached on the time line or composition of the proposed U.S. reduction, but South Korean officials have requested at least a one-year delay in the move. U.S. officials originally proposed completion by 2005.

Both sides did agree that the 3,600 2nd Infantry Division troops sent to Iraq this summer will be part of any reduction.

“The U.S. side repeated its previous position on its troop-cut plan and we also proposed our position,” said Ahn Kwang-chan, the lead South Korean negotiator, in a wrap-up of the meetings.

The sides also agreed on a Land Partnership Plan amendment moving up the closure of nine 2nd Infantry Division bases to 2004. According to U.S. Forces Korea, the bases are: Camp Bonifas, Camp Liberty Bell, Camp Edwards, Camp Garry Owen, Camp Giant, Camp Greaves, Camp Howze, Camp Stanton and Camp Falling Water.

U.S. officials repeatedly have said any reduction in “boots on the ground” wouldn’t affect the deterrent capabilities of a combined U.S.-South Korean force. They frequently point to an $11 billion infusion of high-tech capabilities over the next three years.

In stateside television appearances to defend the Pentagon’s worldwide realignment plans, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice repeated those assertions.

“Yes, the numbers will come down, but that is more than made up for with the capability that we have in air, in land, in sea — and in the fact that our ground forces are now more capable technologically than they were 50 years ago,” Rice said in a Fox News interview.

“What we are doing there is consolidating some of the many facilities that are no longer needed,” she told CNN.

“We are moving our forces to places where they will be not so close to Seoul and, therefore, not an irritant to the population of South Korea. Our air and sea power contribute more to the deterrent. This is a very powerful deterrent against [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Il. And he would make a terrible mistake in reading anything into it.”

Friday started off with a high-level pledge for cooperation: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talked with his South Korean counterpart, Yoon Kwang-ung, with both parties agreeing to strengthen the nations’ alliance through “joint efforts.”

“Rumsfeld told Yoon he hopes these talks would go well, so that [the troop reduction] would be implemented as scheduled,” MND spokesman Brig. Gen. Nam Dae-yeon told reporters.

— Jeremy Kirk contributed to this report.


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