U.S. gen­eral de­nies any plans for pre-emp­tive at­tack on N. Korea

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Andrew Salmon

SEOUL — The com­man­der of U.S. forces in South Korea on Oct. 30 said he “cer­tainly” ex­pects an­other North Korean nu­clear test, but dis­missed re­ports that his forces were pre­par­ing a pre­emp­tive strike on the North.

“I can only sur­mise that since they tested one, they will test an­other,” Gen. Bur­well B. Bell said of North Korea’s Oct. 9 nu­clear test dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at Seoul’s Yongsan Gar­ri­son. “But I won’t spec­u­late as to when.”

The Wash­ing­ton Times two weeks ago quoted nu­clear an­a­lysts in­clud­ing David Al­bright, a for­mer in­spec­tor for the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, say­ing tech­ni­cal prob­lems en­coun­tered by the North in its first test could likely be worked out within a few months.

Gen. Bell also ad­dressed a pub­lished re­port two weeks ago that said U.S. and South Korean forces were plan­ning a pre-emp­tive strike against North Korea.

His forces are “not in the busi­ness of de­vel­op­ing pre-emp­tive strike plans,” he said, ex­plain­ing that the U.S. de­ploy­ment on the Korea Penin­sula is de­fen­sive in na­ture. South Korean gov­ern­ment sources also de­nied the re­port.

Al­though some ob­servers worry that the North’s nu­clear test shifted the bal­ance of power on the penin­sula — an op­po­si­tion assem­bly­man, for ex­am­ple, has said the South’s ar­mored forces are in­ca­pable of op­er­at­ing in a nu­clear en­vi­ron­ment — Gen. Bell adamantly re­jected the ar­gu­ment.

The United States has acted un­der a mu­tual de­fense treaty to ex­tend its “nu­clear um­brella” to cover South Korea, he said, while al­lied forces con­tinue to “over­match” North Korea in con­ven­tional weapons.

The gen­eral said Wash­ing­ton re­mains com­mit­ted to its half­cen­tury al­liance with Seoul for as long as the U.S. forces are “wel- come and wanted in this coun­try.”

There has been fierce de­bate in South Korea about the pres­ence of U.S. troops, par­tic­u­larly since two school­girls were killed in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing U.S. sol­diers in 2002.

Con­ser­va­tives con­tend that pro-North Korean ag­i­ta­tors have been be­hind anti-Amer­i­can move­ments in re­cent years, and over the Oct. 28-29 week­end five per­sons — in­clud­ing the deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the mi­nor­ity Demo­cratic La­bor Party and a for­mer stu­dent ac­tivist — were ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of spy­ing for North Korea.

Gen. Bell af­firmed that the wartime com­mand of South Ko- rean forces will be trans­ferred from Amer­i­can to Korean com­man­ders be­tween 2009 and 2012, and pre­dicted a timetable would be an­nounced in the first half of 2007.

He said the United States would ex­tend “bridg­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties” to make sure there was no gap in com­mand, and warned that pre­cise tim­ing was es­sen­tial. “We can­not have any doubt of who is in charge,” he said.

He added that U.S. forces in Korea were now “air- and naval­cen­tric” with South Korean forces mak­ing up the bulk of land forces. The in­fantry com­po­nent of the U.S. con­tin­gent has been steadily re­duced in re­cent years.

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