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U.S. reviews Korean, German bases

Rumsfeld says South Korea is entirely capable of deterring a North Korean attack.
Rumsfeld says South Korea is entirely capable of deterring a North Korean attack.

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WASHINGTON -- The United States says it is considering relocating or even withdrawing some American troops stationed in South Korea and Germany as part of a plan to "lower the footprint" of forces overseas.

Speaking in Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the current deployment of troops in both South Korea and Europe was a leftover from the Cold War and was being examined as part of a long-running re-evaluation of military deployments outside the U.S.

Rumsfeld ordered the re-evaluation of basing arrangements in August 2001, and discussions have been under way since.

Pentagon officials have stressed that the moves have been under consideration for some time, and are in no way linked to political relations with either Germany or South Korea.

Speaking of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, where the U.S. is engaged in an increasingly tense standoff with the North over its alleged nuclear program, Rumsfeld told a Pentagon forum Thursday that several options were being examined.

"Whether the forces would come home or whether they'd move farther south on the peninsula or whether they'd move to some neighboring area are the kinds of things that are being sorted out," Rumsfeld said.

"The same thing's true with our forces in Western Europe," he added, saying U.S. European Commander Gen. James Jones will be delivering recommendations soon for reorganizing U.S. forces in Europe.

In Europe, Rumsfeld said, the problem is that too many troops are currently concentrated in Germany, making it hard to move them around quickly.

Rumsfeld said no decisions have been made regarding either Germany or South Korean, but that in the case of the latter, military planners were keen to move many U.S. troops out of heavily-populated Seoul.

"We still have a lot of forces in Korea arranged very far forward where it's intrusive in their lives and where they really aren't very flexible or usable for other things," he said.

In the process of redeployment the number of troops could be reduced, Rumsfeld said.

"I suspect that what we'll do is we'll end up making some adjustments there," he said.

In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month Rumsfeld said he wanted to move U.S. troops away from Seoul and the frontline Demilitarized Zone with North Korea.

Instead, he said, forces deployed on the Korean Peninsula should "be more oriented toward an air hub and a sea hub with the ability to reinforce so that there's still a strong deterrent."

'Risk averse'

Rumsfeld's comments Thursday came as a senior Pentagon official warned North Korea not to misjudge the United States or think the build up to a possible war with Iraq is diverting its attention from tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking to CNN's David Ensor, the official said that if North Korea is "counting on us to be risk averse, they may misjudge us."

Citing the recent mid-air interception of a U.S. surveillance plane by North Korean MiG fighter jets -- an incident he called a "very serious" provocation -- he said Bush administration officials were worried about the potential for miscalculation by the government of Kim Jong Il.

The official also had strong words for the governments of China and Russia, both of whom he said remained "happy to evade their responsibility" for helping to end the danger of a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Responding to criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill that the U.S. should agree to meet North Korea bilaterally, the official said the Bush administration wants to deal with the problem in a multilateral way.

On that, he said, "I think being stubborn pays off."

The official said North Korea wants bilateral talks -- excluding South Korea and other regional nations -- because "they think they can get more goodies from us" that way.

'Stabilizing force'

The United States has maintained some 37,000 troops on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War 50 years ago as a "stabilizing force" and deterrent against North Korea.

However, in his comments to the Pentagon forum Rumsfeld said South Korea was in a far stronger position to deter any North Korean attack itself than it was five decades earlier.

With a powerful economy and a better-equipped military force than the North, he said Seoul had "all the capability in the world of providing the kind of up-front deterrent that's needed."

His comments came as the United States braces itself for a possible war with Iraq with military planners looking to build more flexibility into the U.S. armed forces overseas presence.

Some critics of the Bush administration argue that a potentially nuclear-armed North Korea presents a far greater global threat than Saddam Hussein and should be given more attention.

South Korean critics meanwhile have argued that the U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula coupled with the Bush administration's hard line on Pyongyang has actually hindered the development of closer ties with the North.

-- CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor and Reuters contributed to this report.

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