Gen­eral sees an­other N. Korea nu­clear test, hits de­fense hur­dles

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Andrew Salmon

SEOUL — The se­nior U.S. com­man­der in South Korea on Jan. 9 said North Korea will likely con­duct an­other nu­clear test, and he alsovent­ed­h­is­frus­tra­tionatarange of is­sues be­dev­il­ing Wash­ing­ton’s mil­i­tary al­liance with Seoul.

“They have self-pro­claimed their pos­ses­sion of nu­clear weapons, and there is no rea­son to be­lieve that at some time in the fu­ture, when it ser­ves­their­pur­poses,thatthey­won’t test an­other one,” Gen. Bur­well B. Bell said of North Korea, which det­o­natedanu­cle­arde­viceonOct9.“So I sus­pect some day they will.”

The gen­eral, speak­ing to re­porters,de­clined­todis­cuss­whether a test was im­mi­nent, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial­ity of intelligence.

ABC News two weeks ago re­port­edPy­ongyang­might­beprepar­ing­fora­n­oth­ertest.Citin­gun­named U.S. de­fense of­fi­cials, the net­work said the moves were sim­i­lar to steps taken be­fore the Oc­to­ber blast.

Top U.S. and South Korean of­fi­cials have dis­missed the spec­u­la­tion, say­ing there is no in­di­ca­tion such a de­vel­op­ment was im­mi­nent.

Gen.Bel­lal­so­ex­pressed­con­cerns about the re­lo­ca­tion of the head­quar­ters of the U.S. forces in South Korea, the trans­fer of wartime com­mand of South Korean forces to South Korean lead­er­ship, and bud­getary short­falls.

“Imus­tad­mit­thatIwas­sur­prised when I read lo­cal press re­ports that [aSouthKorean]gov­ern­mentof­fi­cial stated the re­lo­ca­tion of U.S. forces would not oc­cur un­til af­ter 2013,” he said. “This was news to me, and not at all re­flec­tive of the agree­ment we have with [South Korea] to achieve the move by 2008.”

Yongsan gar­ri­son, home to 6,500 troops and 8,000 civil­ians — fam­ily mem­ber­sand­de­fensec­on­trac­tors— has been a bone of con­tention in the al­liance for years. Talks to re­lo­cate the­cen­tralSeoul­base­have­beenon­go­ingsince1990,bu­ton­lyin2004­did thet­wocoun­triessig­nana­gree­ment to re­lo­cate it to the city of Pyeong­taek,55mi­lessouthofthe­cap­i­tal,by 2008.

Con­struc­tion of the new base is un­der­way,but­last­month,lo­cal­press re­ports, quot­ing an un­named South Korean gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, stated the move would be de­layed un­til 2013.Seoulof­fi­cial­shavenotre­futed the re­ports.

Not­ing that many U.S. per­son­nel and their fam­i­lies were liv­ing in di­lap­i­dated fa­cil­i­ties at Yongsan, Gen. Bell­saidthatwith­the­move­planned, he could not con­struct new fa­cil­i­ties on the cur­rent base.

The pro­posal to trans­fer wartime com­mand of South Korean forces is caught in a sim­i­lar time­line dis­pute. U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials say the trans­fer of com­mand can be achieved by 2009, but the South Korean side wants to de­lay it un­til 2012.

Gen. Bell said fu­ture U.S. force com­man­ders would play a “sup­port­ing role” to South Korean com­man­ders, and hinted that the trans- fer of wartime con­trol of troops needs more se­ri­ous at­ten­tion than it has so far re­ceived.

“The worst things we can do, within min­utes, is to trans­fer com­mand­backand­forth,”he­said.“That would be un­ac­cept­able.”

Gen.Bel­lal­soad­dressed­short­falls in­SouthKore­an­fi­nan­cial­sup­portto fund the on­go­ing con­sol­i­da­tion of U.S.troop­sacross­theKore­anPenin­sula. The U.S. force in Korea has been­shrink­ing—from37,500troops in2003,to29,500to­day,andtherewill be 25,000 in 2008. Most of the troops are mov­ing to new, less in­tru­sive base ar­eas.

In ne­go­ti­a­tions, Seoul had agreed to pay 44 per­cent of U.S. troops’ con­sol­i­da­tion costs — $886 mil­lion. How­ever, what Seoul fi­nally of­fered was $772 mil­lion, leav­ing a short­fall of more than $100 mil­lion.

“I’mbe­ing­putin­toabad­po­si­tion, fromapol­i­cyper­spec­tive,ofnothav­ing the money to do what our two gov­ern­mentstold­metodo,”the­gen­eral said, adding that he would need to make “sig­nif­i­cant” cuts in U.S. forces’ pro­grams.

Gen. Bell’s out­spo­ken tone sur­prised some an­a­lysts.

“Clearly,Wash­ing­toni­s­ex­pect­ing Kore­ans to take greater re­spon­si­bil­i­ty­fortheird­e­fense,and­be­have­honor­ably in the ne­go­ti­a­tion process as that hap­pens,” said Michael Breen, a Seoul-based au­thor of sev­eral books about the penin­sula and a long­time Korea watcher.

Mean­while,theover­allde­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the al­liance dis­mays lo­cal con­ser­va­tives.

“The sharp rise in anti-Amer­i­can­ism here has partly been in­sti­gat­ed­byNorthKore­an­pro­pa­ganda, but the be­hav­ior of our gov­ern­ment in the re­cent two to three years has been rather out of the or­di­nary in its abil­i­ty­tobe­diplo­matic,”saidLeeInho,apro­fes­so­ratMy­ongjiUniver­sity.

“Con­ser­va­tives are con­cerned here: Even if we are crit­i­cal of some pol­i­cy­line­spur­sued­bytheBushad­min­is­tra­tion, we do not want to jet­ti­sontheal­liance­com­pletely,”he­said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.