U.S., South Korea discussed pulling 12,000 troops
SEOUL — The United States broached the subject of removing 12,000 troops from South Korea last summer but did not announce the request at the urging of senior South Korean government figures, officials said Wednesday.
Senior U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the subject was brought up in June 2003 meetings with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, foreign minister Ban Ki-moon and the two highest-ranking officials on the country’s National Security Council.
At the time, the U.S. officials said, the South Korean leaders requested the overture be kept private until a future date. This week, several South Korean media reports have brought up the 12,000-troop figure, but details about who knew what, and when, have been sketchy.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Chong Wa Dae, the South Korean president’s office, confirmed the meeting and the request but disputed some details.
“Last year, when the U.S. officials contacted us, they mentioned the pullout of 12,000 troops. At the time, the decision was not officially made on their side, either,” said Lee Ji-hyun.
“They simply asked that we discuss it in details in the months to follow. We did not ask them to withhold the information from the public. However, there was an understanding that no announcements would be made until both sides agreed on the terms and an official decision was made.”
Though no official announcement about removing 12,000 U.S. troops has been made, the issue is expected to come up again at bilateral meetings next week in Seoul.
Last month, U.S. and South Korean officials announced that 3,600 troops from the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division would be dispatched to Iraq later this summer. American officials say no decision has been made on whether the troops would return to South Korea, or be reassigned in the United States.
An NSC spokesman said Wednesday the larger troop movement discussion surfaced last year.
“We didn’t really say straight out that we didn’t want them to announce it,” the spokesman said. “It was implied, though, that it would be better for both sides to discuss it first, before any announcements, official or not, were made. If it was announced sooner, without any confirmed details, it would have led to confusion and panic.”
The U.S. military has 38,000 servicemembers on the peninsula as a deterrent to North Korea. In recent months, Pentagon officials have said the traditional constraint of keeping those troops in South Korea did not fit with a global repositioning of forces.