SEOUL — A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said Friday that a news report saying South Korean officials believe the top U.S. general here is using a possible pause in the drawdown of U.S. troops as a “bargaining tactic” was untrue and improperly reported.

U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell told a congressional committee March 12 that he expects South Korean president Lee Myung-bak to ask for a pause in the reduction of U.S. troops next month while the countries study the future of the drawdown.

“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 and then potentially execute a pause based on those discussions,” Bell said, according to transcripts of his testimony.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, down from 37,000 about four years ago. About 25,000 will remain when the drawdown is completed.

The Korea Times reported Friday that an MND spokesman said Bell’s comments were meant to get more money from South Korea to pay the cost of stationing U.S. troops here.

MND spokesman Col. Lee Bung-woo said he met with USFK spokesman Col. Franklin Childress on Friday afternoon to tell him the story didn’t reflect the MND’s views.

He said another MND spokesman’s comments to the Korea Times were “misguided and mischaracterized.”

Lee said the spokesman, Kim Hyung-ki, spoke with a Times reporter by telephone about the issue, but Kim didn’t know his remarks were going to be reported.

“If the United States freezes the planned troop cuts, it will surely help defend our nation. But there is no reason for us to ask for the pause, since it would provoke a controversy over defense cost-sharing,” the Times quoted Kim as saying.

Lee Bung-woo said the story didn’t reflect the MND’s stance on Bell’s comments, and referred to his spokesman any questions about whether President Lee plans to ask for the pause.

The president’s spokesman, Kim Bu-reun, couldn’t say if the president planned to ask for a pause. Calls to the Korea Times went unanswered Saturday.

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