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Saturday, September 23, 2000

Cohen: Despite warming trend,
North Korea still threat to South

By Jim Lea
Stars and Stripes

SEOUL — Defense Secretary William Cohen said Thursday that in spite of warming relations between the two Koreas, the North still poses a threat to the South.

He urged Pyongyang to agree to measures to reduce tensions that Seoul says it will propose at next week’s talks between defense chiefs of the two Koreas.

Cohen made his comments following a security meeting between South Korea and the United States.

Cohen said Pyongyang’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, its long-range missiles and suspicions that it still may be working on a nuclear weapons program are a threat not only to South Korea but to other nations in Northeast Asia.

He also said that the United States expects to keep troops stationed in South Korea "for the indefinite future." A joint communiqué issued at the end of the meeting said Cohen and South Korean Defense Minister Cho Song-tae agreed that "combined training and exercises are crucial in deterring war and enhancing combined military readiness."

The first-ever, face-to-face meeting between defense ministers of South and North Korea is to be held Monday and Tuesday on Cheju Island. Cho said he will propose setting up a joint military commission with the North to help ease military tensions. He added, however, that he has "some doubt as to how far we can move (on tension reductions) in our first meeting."

Cohen said the Cheju meeting would be a good first step toward reducing the possibility of war on the peninsula.

The two officials expressed satisfaction that talks on revising the South Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement have resumed. They said they agreed that the SOFA revision, "taking both sides’ interests into full account, will positively contribute to the long-term strength" of the alliance. They agreed to complete the SOFA revision "as expeditiously as possible."

Cohen and Cho agreed that the probe into the alleged killing of unarmed Korean civilians by U.S. troops at No Gun Ri during the Korean War "should be thorough, complete and transparent and should be concluded as quickly as possible."

That investigation began last October and the Pentagon has said it will be completed sometime this fall.

Cho also touched on work under way to restore rail service between South and North Korea and build a four-lane highway across the Demilitarized Zone to link the two countries.

Some have criticized the plan, saying adequate measures have not been taken to prevent a North Korean invasion through the construction area at the western end of the DMZ. Cho said measures are being taken, including "obstacles, firepower and troops."

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