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Roh Objects Expansion of USFK Role in NE Asia

President Roh Moo-Hyun

President Roh Moo-hyun said Tuesday that South Korea will not allow U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula to expand their role and get involved in disputes in Northeast Asian nations without South Korea's consent.

In a speech at an Air Force Academy commencement ceremony, Roh said, "I clearly state that the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) should not be involved in disputes in Northeast Asia without our consent," Roh said.

Roh's remark follows a report that the United States is adopting "strategic flexibility," under which U.S. soldiers stationed in the South will be reshaped as "rapid deployment forces" to interfere in military conflicts in Northeast Asia, and possibly any military conflicts between China and Taiwan.

"We will never compromise on this," Roh said, dismissing concerns that the expanded role of the USFK may eventually provoke China and destabilize regional security.

A senior aid to Roh, who asked not to be named, said it is the first time the South Korean government has officially revealed its position on the USFK's moves toward greater strategic flexibility, which Washington first raised in April 2003 during a Future of the Alliance (FOTA) forum.

"The point is that we understand the U.S. global strategy for employment of rapid deployment forces," the aide said. "It is acceptable if the United States moves some of its forces to Iraq or any other conflict areas on condition that the troop redeployment does not have a critical effect on the Korean Peninsula."
"However, such a U.S. troop redeployment should be restricted if it involves regional conflicts in Northeast Asia," he said.

The aide dismissed an allegation that Roh's remarks on the broadened USFK role reflected China's concerns about U.S. expansionism in Northeast Asia, which would gain relevance if a military conflict arose between Beijing and Taipei over the former's One China policy framed against Taipei's leanings toward independence.

"We've never discussed the issue with China," the aide asserted.

South Korea and the United States will have to discuss the issue of USFK's strategic flexibility sooner or later to make it clear that the U.S. side will not be involved in military conflicts in Northeast Asia without South Korea's consent, the aide said.

Meanwhile, Roh said the government will make efforts to regain full control over its military within a decade. This would strip the United States of its power to assume control over Korean troops in the event of a war, agreed by the South in light of their bilateral alliance.

Roh also reiterated the importance of the role of U.S. troops in the maintenance of peace and stability here.

"U.S. troops will also continue to play a role on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

South Korea will have to cooperate closely with its neighbors, as well the United States, to establish a regional security structure, Roh said.(Yonhap News)

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