U.S., South Korea to finetune military pact

SINGAPORE April 9. The future of the half-century-old military alliance between the United States and South Korea will be fine-tuned at a summit between the Presidents of the two countries next month. This was announced in Seoul today in the context of commencement of talks there between the representatives of South Korea and the U.S. on the "future of the alliance policy initiative''.

The overall re-orientation or even the sustainable re-invention of this enduring alliance will be determined only at the summit between Roh Moo-hyun and George W. Bush, Presidents of South Korea and the U.S. respectively, on American soil in mid-May this year. Mr. Roh is scheduled to begin a week-long visit to the U.S. from May 11 in this connection.

A close examination of the U.S.-South Korean strategic alliance has been necessitated by North Korea's latest moves to `nuclearise' itself and by the long-term implications of the end of the Cold War over a decade ago as also the parallel significance of Washington's ongoing military involvement in Iraq, according to regional diplomats and analysts.

Given the urgency of such a reappraisal, as seen from both Seoul and Washington, the two sides have already begun the review that is expected to be completed well before the May summit.

In the more immediate context of North Korea's repeated acts of perceived ``brinkmanship'', the delegations of South Korea and the U.S. agreed, at their meeting in Seoul today, to "push for the re-location of the Yongsan garrison in central Seoul as soon as possible''. While today's decision pertains only to a single U.S. garrison in South Korea, the sides agreed, at a broader level, to carry forward their discussion on the timing of the ``overall re-alignment process'' in a way that would not weaken their ability to deter the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or the North), according to South Korea's Assistant Defence Minister for Policy, Cha Young-koo.

Meanwhile, a large number of South Korean legislators have indicated their intention to petition the Roh administration, through a campaign of 10-million signatures, to reconsider the issue of relocating the U.S. forces. About 37,000 U.S. military personnel are estimated to operate in the southern half of the Korean peninsula.

At the other end of the political spectrum within South Korea, the exercise to trim the U.S. strategic sails to the new winds of international politics is reckoned to be based on the twin principles of `operability' of the USFK and its potency as a `deterrent' to the DPRK's conventional and `nuclear' capabilities. It is in this context that North Korea has again indicated that the entire South Korea is within the compass of Pyongyang's strategic radar (in both political and military senses).