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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. troop reductions in South Korea will not be part of talks aiming to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, a top U.S. arms control official said Wednesday.

The U.S. State Department’s John Bolton, undersecretary for arms control and international security, said the U.S.-South Korean alliance’s capabilities won’t be weakened during negotiations with North Korea.

“How we structure the forces and how we deploy them obviously is for the United States and the Republic of Korea to consider on their own, not to negotiate with the North,” Bolton told students and international studies scholars at Yonsei University in an hour-long talk.

Bolton was in Seoul through Thursday, meeting with South Korea Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon and other officials on non-proliferation issues. Bolton’s presentations at the university and a later news conference focused on the United States’ latest proposal to North Korea on how to deal with its nuclear program.

He said North Korea has yet to respond to the proposal, presented last month during multilateral “six-way” talks in Beijing among North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States. The United States has sought a verifiable, complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program.

Despite the 21-month-old nuclear problem, the United States wishes to withdraw around 12,500 servicemembers from its 37,000-strong force in South Korea by the end of 2005, U.S. officials have said. Negotiations on that proposal continue with the South Korean government.

About 3,600 2nd Infantry Division soldiers stationed near the Demilitarized Zone are training to deploy to Iraq starting next month.

The United States will not settle for a program freeze or give incentives before North Korea dismantles its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, Bolton said. If it complies, he said, North Korea eventually could see benefits similar to those enjoyed now by Libya, which gave up such programs in December.

Western business people now can be seen in hotels in Tripoli, and travel restrictions and economic sanctions have been eased, Bolton said.

When asked if the U.S. military was willing to take military action against North Korea, Bolton said, “We think it’s possible to succeed through peaceful and diplomatic means ... that’s why we are pursuing the course that we are pursuing now.”

North Korea’s biggest threat would be to use its weapons of mass destruction as blackmail, or to transfer them to terrorists, he said, noting that South Korea has expressed support for the Proliferation Security Initiative, a program that seeks to disrupt black marketing of components for weapons of mass destruction.

The CIA has stated that it believes North Korea already may have produced several nuclear weapons, but North Korean officials have not overtly claimed possession, referring to the North Korean program as a “nuclear deterrent.” U.S. intelligence agencies concluded unanimously in 2002 that North Korea is pursuing a production-scope procurement program, Bolton said.

When asked if the United States could quell any doubts about North Korea’s armament activities by releasing more intelligence, Bolton said, “Revealing some of this information in and of itself tells the North Koreans a substantial amount and would aid in their concealment and denial and deception activities.”

A short-term release of information could hurt long-term information gathering on North Korea, he said.

“It’s a dilemma that we have, and we always have, with classified information,” he said.

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