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From left, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow greet their Korean counterparts at the 37th Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Friday.
From left, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow greet their Korean counterparts at the 37th Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Friday. (Teri Weaver / S&S)
From left, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow greet their Korean counterparts at the 37th Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Friday.
From left, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte and U.S. Ambassador to Korea Alexander Vershbow greet their Korean counterparts at the 37th Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Friday. (Teri Weaver / S&S)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shakes hands with Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung at the beginning of the 37th Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Friday.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shakes hands with Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung at the beginning of the 37th Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul on Friday. (Teri Weaver / S&S)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld prays Friday morning during a visit to Korea’s National Cemetary. The top U.S. military official paid respects at a Korean War memorial before meeting with Korean military leaders.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld prays Friday morning during a visit to Korea’s National Cemetary. The top U.S. military official paid respects at a Korean War memorial before meeting with Korean military leaders. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

SEOUL — South Korea will assume more responsibility for its security as it continues to grow economically and diplomatically, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said here Friday.

But what that responsibility might entail — and when it might happen — is less certain.

“It would take place at the moment that the United States of America and the Republic of Korea decided it was appropriate,” Rumsfeld said at a news conference at the Korean Ministry of National Defense. Republic of Korea is South Korea’s official name.

“The Republic of Korea, an impoverished and devastated nation over a half a century ago, now has one of the world’s most powerful economies and is an important democracy with a large and increasingly capable armed force,” Rumsfeld said. “As the capabilities of South Korea grow, obviously they will assume more responsibility as … in recent years.”

Rumsfeld met with Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung on Friday at the two countries’ 37th Security Consultative Meeting. In the morning session, military leaders from both nations discussed their combined forces strategies to protect the peninsula from North Korean aggression.

Rumsfeld and Yoon also agreed to “appropriately accelerate” talks about giving South Korea more authority during wartime, according to a written statement they issued Friday. Currently, the Combined Forces Command’s four-star general, Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, would assume control of both countries’ militaries should war break out.

The leaders discussed the reshaping of U.S. forces here, as U.S. troop strength is to decrease by about one-third to 25,000 servicemembers during the next few years. When asked during the news conference, Rumsfeld said no current plans exist to change the leader of U.S. Forces Korea to a three-star from the four-star level. LaPorte commands the Combined Forces Command, the United Nations Command and USFK.

Earlier Friday, Rumsfeld visited South Korea’s National Cemetery, laying a wreath to honor the Korean War’s fallen servicemembers.

He said many Americans lost their lives helping South Korea during the war and since then many more have given money and support to help South Korea maintain its independence. He also complimented Koreans on vast improvements in the past few decades as the country went from impoverished nation to economic leader.

“We are a part of this alliance at the request of the Republic of Korea’s government,” he said. “And thanks to the industriousness of the people of the Republic of Korea, and to the peace and stability that the alliance between our two countries has provided this peninsula, you have seen the economic growth and success and energy and vitality and opportunity for the people of this country over a period of many decades now.”

Yoon said the two leaders discussed neither North Korea’s nuclear ambitions nor whether South Korea would support the communist nation’s intention to use nuclear technology to generate power.

Rumsfeld was to leave for Mongolia on Saturday, then visit Uzbekistan and Lithuania. He visited China earlier in the week.

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