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South Korea’s foreign minister, in Thailand for regional talks, said he was optimistic that both the United States and South Korea would be “flexible” on a U.S. troop reduction proposal.

Ban Ki-moon, speaking to a group of Korean correspondents covering the Bangkok meetings, said he expected a “satisfactory result” to negotiations over the timing of any reduction.

U.S. officials said in June they wanted to remove 12,500 of the some 38,000 servicemembers assigned to the Korean Peninsula. Pentagon officials said they wanted the process to be completed by the end of 2005; South Korean officials want any reduction delayed by at least one year beyond that time frame.

The troop reduction has become the focus of the ongoing Future of the Alliance Talks, which likely will enter their 12th round next month.

At the most recent round of meetings, which wrapped up Aug. 20 in Seoul, the only firm agreement reached was to include in the reduction the 3,600 2nd Infantry Division troops now on a one-year deployment to Iraq.

According to Ban, South Korea’s government asked the U.S. military to tailor its reduction plans to South Korea’s ongoing move to increase its own defense capabilities.

American negotiators, led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless, responded to this request as “understandable,” Ban told reporters.

South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun has proposed a 10-year plan to build up a military capable of being a stand-alone deterrent to North Korea or any other potential adversary. With the troop reduction on the table, U.S. officials have pointed to an $11 billion, three-year initiative to field more advanced weaponry and technology.

The next round of FOTA talks likely would be scheduled for late September in Washington, D.C., officials said.


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