North Korea 298 88.
(photo credit: )
The United States is reaffirming its commitment to defend South Korea, but the two countries' defense chiefs openly disagreed over the US refusal to specify that it would reply to a nuclear attack on South Korea with a nuclear response.
It also was obvious Friday from a joint news conference that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung are at odds over how quickly Korean soldiers should assume operational wartime command of the country's military and how the expenses should be shared.
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In his opening statement, Rumsfeld said he and his Korean colleague had discussed North Korea's October 9 underground nuclear test and reports that another might be planned.
"The United States reaffirms its firm commitment to the Republic of Korea, including continuation of the extended deterrents offered by the US nuclear umbrella, consistent with the mutual defense treaty," he said.
He said that commitment "has sent a clear signal for over three decades" when it appeared in public statements issued after the joint ministers' meetings.
Later, Rumsfeld seemed slightly befuddled by a Korean reporter's suggestion that Yoon's delegation had wanted changes in the communique's discussion of the deterrent commitment.
"I guess I'm not in a position to respond very extensively," Rumsfeld said. "We've had language in the communique for a very long time. It's specific with respect to the nuclear umbrella. I don't recall hearing any proposal to change it, ... or can I imagine how it could be improved upon."
Yoon demurred: "This morning, we had extensive discussions about the nuclear umbrella issue, as we did during yesterday's ... meeting. So I hope that when the joint statement comes out eventually, it'll have different language from years past."
RUMSFELD: "Oh, do you?"
YOON: "I think so."
RUMSFELD: "I see."
Yoon had said in his meetings with Rumsfeld that the statement should be more explicit about US nuclear assurances, according to two American officials who participated in the talks and who would discuss the matter only on condition of anonymity.
At the time of the Rumsfeld-Yoon news conference, the statement had not been completed nor made public, but the US officials said the language on US nuclear assurances had been settled. The officials said the language would not include the provisions sought by the South Koreans.
The US position is that because mutual defense are based on the concept that an attack on one is an attack on both, the document's mention that the nuclear protection was consistent with the mutual defense treaty was sufficient. It was accepted.
On the transition of operational control, candidate Roh Moo-hyun made it a major campaign issue leading to his election as president in 2002. Control now is exercised by American officers heading a joint headquarters system. As the United States draws down its force structure in Korea, it plans to make the change in 2009. The Koreans want to hold off for three more years.
"We continue to believe that the Republic of Korea has the capability to assume - after 55 years, the 10th largest country on the face of the Earth, with a very capable military - has the ability to assume responsibility for wartime operational control roughly in the time frame of 2009. The difference has been between that and 2012. That's where the discussion's taken place," Rumsfeld said in response to a Korean reporter's question.
Yoon again retorted: "The opinion of the Korean minister of defense as well as the Korean public is that 2012 is the best year in terms of having the perfect conditions for security on the Korean Peninsula."
Another somewhat testy exchange followed a reporter's question about money.
"Our alliance is in both countries' interests, and we believe that a partnership of that type should be roughly equal in terms of the burden-sharing."
"So that means agreement on 50-50 sharing?" the questioner asked.
"No, you asked what I thought," Rumsfeld said. "I don't speak for other ministers."
"Korea's been contributing to the defense costs since the beginning of 1990s," Yoon said, "and our contribution toward the defense costs has been on a steady upwardly curve, with the exception of this year and last year."
He said he hoped negotiations "will come to a smooth conclusion this year."