SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea (search) is asking the United States to delay plans to slash the number of U.S. troops based on the divided Korean Peninsula (search) during talks that started Thursday on the future of their military cooperation, a government official said.
Washington has notified Seoul of its plans to withdraw 12,500 of about 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea by the end of 2005, forcing South Korea's military to shoulder more responsibility for defending against any military aggression from North Korea (search). Some 3,600 Americans have already been sent from South Korea to Iraq.
"We want the United States to delay the plan a little bit more, and we plan to make such request at today's talks," a Defense Ministry official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Local media have reported that Seoul wants the plan to be postponed by more than a year.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Lawless will lead the American delegation during the two-day talks in Seoul.
During talks last month in Washington, U.S. and South Korean officials agreed to move all 8,000 U.S. military personnel currently based in Seoul to another city south of the capital by the end of 2008.
U.S. troops have been stationed here since the 1950-53 Korean War in a bid to deter any possible attack from the North. The U.S. soldiers, and an additional 650,000 troops from South Korea, remain on a war footing with the North because the war ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, meaning the two Koreas are technically still at war.
The planned U.S. troop reduction is seen as part of Washington's effort to realign its forces so they can better respond to emergencies worldwide.
Earlier this week, President Bush announced a plan to withdraw up to 70,000 U.S. troops from Cold War bases in Europe and Asia. John Kerry blasted the plan to pullback on the Korean Peninsula, saying it would embolden nuclear-armed North Korea while the international community is seeking to persuade it to give up its nuclear program.
Bush administration officials argue that although the number of U.S. troops in South Korea will decrease, the allies' defense capabilities won't be weakened.