Bush, South Korea's Roh Call for Resumption of Six-Party Talks
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun September 14 called for the resumption of the Six-Party Talks to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.
Following their meeting at the White House, Bush told reporters during a joint press conference with Roh, “We reaffirmed our commitment to the Six-Party Talks, so that we can peacefully deal with the North Korean issue.”
“[T]he president and I agreed,” Roh said through an interpreter, “to work together for the re-start of the Six-Party Talks. As for specific steps that we can take before the resumption of the six-party process, our ministers and staff will be consulting closely.”
The talks involving North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States stalled in November 2005 when North Korea refused to return to the negotiating table to discuss implementation of a joint statement of principles it signed on September 19, 2005. In the statement, North Korea made a commitment to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs, to return to the nonproliferation treaty on nuclear weapons and to reinstate safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. (See related article.)
Bush said that North Korea’s recalcitrance “has really strengthened an alliance of five nations that are determined to solve this issue peacefully.”
The U.S. president added that stability in the region is in the best interests of Kim Jong ll, the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic, but that the most important incentive is for Kim to understand “there is a better way to improve the lives of his people than being isolated.”
“If he [Kim] were to verifiably get rid of his weapons programs, there is clearly a better way forward,” Bush said.
TROOP COMMAND IN THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA
Both Roh and Bush expressed their desire that the issue of wartime command of U.S. and South Korean troops in the Republic of Korea (ROK) not become politicized.
“[W]e agreed that this is not a political issue; this is an issue that will be discussed through the working level talks and we will continue to work together on this issue,” Roh said. “I agree with the president,” Bush said, “that the issue should not become a political issue.”
There are three commands in the Republic of Korea: The ROK and U.S. Combined Forces Command, the United Nations Command and the United States Forces Command. Despite different missions, all are committed to the safety of South Korea.
At issue is the wartime command of the Combined Forces Command, currently a shared responsibility. Seoul wants to transition from the combined and equally shared command structure to a structure where ROK forces are singularly and independently commanded by the ROK government during wartime, putting U.S. forces in a supporting role.
Bush said that he has talked to the U.S. secretary of defense “about making sure that the issue is done in a consultative way and at the appropriate level of government, and that's how we will end up deciding the appropriate transfer of operational authority.”
Decisions about the placement of U.S. troops and the size of the contingent will be made in consultation with the South Korean government, Bush added. "We will work in a consultative way at the appropriate level of government to come up with an appropriate date.”
“My message to the Korean people,” Bush said, “is that the United States is committed to the security of the Korean Peninsula.
Currently, the United States has fewer than 30,000 troops in South Korea – and that number is expected to be reduced to 25,000 in the next two years.
Those U.S. service personnel remaining will be relocated to Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, and the U.S. Army 2nd Infantry Division will be relocated to installations south of Seoul’s Han River.
Bush said that Roh “strongly advocated the need for there to be a visa waiver for the people of South Korea who want to visit the United States.
“I assured him,” Bush said, “we will work together to see if we can't get this issue resolved as quickly as possible.”
For more information, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.
Additional information (PDF, 42 pages) on U.S.-South Korea security relationships is available in a March statement by U.S. General B.B. Bell, commander of the Combined Forces Command, United Nations Command and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), before the House Armed Services Committee. The statement is posted on the USFK Web site.
For more on U.S. visa programs, see the e-journal See You in the U.S.A.