Reports: South Korea may ask U.S. to pause troop drawdown
SEOUL — South Korean defense officials will ask the United States on Tuesday for a pause in the drawdown of U.S. troops stationed here, according to numerous South Korean media reports.
The reports, which cited anonymous South Korean defense officials, come less than a month after U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell told a congressional committee that he expects South Korea’s new president to ask for the pause so the countries can study the future of the drawdown.
Bell testified March 12 that President Lee Myung-bak could make the request as early as April, when Lee is scheduled to meet with President Bush at Camp David.
“If he does ask for that pause, I think it would be prudent for the United States to agree to sit down and discuss the issue,” Bell said.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are currently stationed in South Korea, down from 37,000 about four years ago. About 25,000 are to remain when the drawdown is complete.
The South Korean press reported Monday that defense officials will make an unofficial request for the drawdown. Any changes to troop levels will be decided during formal consultations between the two countries and announced jointly, said U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Franklin Childress.
He said USFK doesn’t know the exact agenda for the Lee-Bush meeting.
Max Kwak, U.S. Embassy spokesman in Seoul, directed questions about the Security Policy Initiative meeting to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. A spokesman for South Korea’s MND declined to comment.
SPI is a high-level policy discussion held every two months between top South Korean and U.S. defense officials.
According to the MND press release, the countries will discuss such topics as USFK base relocations, progress of a plan to transfer wartime operational control to South Korea, and responsibilities for maintaining the United Nations Command.
A MND spokesman said Monday that meeting results will be released after another SPI meeting in May.