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Pentagon Resists Korea Reunification Euphoria
DoD Spokesman Foresees No Quick Pullout From South Korea or End to Ballistic Missile Threat
by Blair Case

Thursday, June 16, 2000--Pentagon spokesman Kenneth H. Bacon Thursday termed the prospects of Korean reunification talks cause for "controlled exuberance" but said they do not justify a reduction of U.S. troops in South Korea or cancel the requirement for a National Missile Defense system to protect the United States from missile attacks.

"All the signs are encouraging, all the talk about reconciliation and reunification is encouraging," Bacon told reporters at a Pentagon briefing session. "The fact is, North Korea remains a major regional power with approximately a million people under arms, heavily armed along the DMZ. In terms of our troops in South Korea, President Kim Dae Jung has told Secretary Cohen and other U.S. leaders, that even if there is unification in the future, he would like U.S. troops to remain in Korea because they are a stabilizing force. Basically, they help assure peace and stability throughout the entire region, and that's why we have nearly a hundred thousand troops stationed in Japan and Korea and throughout the Asia Pacific region.

"I think there is a lot of reason for exuberance right now about what's happening on the Korean peninsula," Bacon said, " but I think it needs to be somewhat warier controlled exuberance at this time. There's been one summit; it's turned out well. There is talk of another summit with President Kim Jong Il going to Seoul later this summer. And I think we just have to wait to see how events unfold.

"Right now," Bacon continued, "North Korea continues to have a large well-armed force deployed close to the DMZ. We hope that will change. It's 50 years this summer, since the Korean War began. It is time to have a peace settlement; it's time to have reconciliation. I think both presidents, both Presidents Kim, see that, and they are apparently trying to move in that direction. But how this unfolds, how 50 years of hostility and distrust and suspicion can be unfolded, and how quickly remain to be seen. We hope very quickly, but I think that time will have to tell.

Bacon said reunification talks haven’t taken the edge off the deadline to field the first phase of National Missile Defense by 2005, a deadline that has been frequently tied to because that has been tied to development of a ballistic missile threat from North Korean ballistic missile programs.

"It’s [National Missile Defense ] been tied to a ballistic missile threat from more countries than just North Korea," Bacon said.. "Obviously, we welcome any diplomatic progress that reduces ballistic missile threats to the United States, to our allies and to our troops stationed around the world. If this does in fact lead to such a reduction, we will welcome that. But North Korea is not the only country we worry about. We worry about Iraq, we worry about Iran, and we worry about other countries that are working on long-range missiles or that already have chemical and biological weapons and would like to have ways to deliver them with long-range missiles. So this is not a problem that exists with just one country; it's broader than that.

A reporter asked, "Isn't the 2005 deadline tied specifically to North Korea? Is there any intelligence estimate that Iraq or Iran will have intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the United States by 2005?"

"I think the lesson of the Rumsfeld report is that countries have been able to develop these capabilities more quickly than we had hoped or anticipated at one time," Bacon responded. "So you're right, we have been worried about North Korea, but we are also worried about other countries as well. And one of the things the president will have to decide, when he sits down to look at whether or not he should make a deployment decision later this summer, is what the threat is and whether it's changed. That's one of the four factors he'll have to consider. So he will be looking at what's going on the Korean peninsula and what's going on elsewhere when he makes that decision."

Russia’s leaders contend the United States overstates the severity of the ballistic missile posed by rogue states. Bacon said U.S. technical experts would share classified information on the threat to their Russian counterparts during talks scheduled later this month.

Posted 16 June 2000



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