S. Korea Moves to Stay in Iraq; Roh Cites Need for U.S. Ties

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Byline: Andrew Salmon, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

SEOUL - President Roh Moo-hyun called yesterday for a one-year extension of South Korean troop deployments in Iraq, saying that closer relations with Washington were vital to his nation's security.

"Cooperation from the U.S. is essential to the security of Northeast Asia and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Mr. Roh said.

"Amid the unpredictability surrounding the North Korean nuclear-weapons issue, the importance of a closer South Korea-U.S. alliance cannot be overemphasized," Yonhap news agency quoted Mr. Roh as saying.

In a similar vein, South Korea's ambassador to Washington, Lee Tae-sik, told The Washington Times earlier this month that his government wanted the United States to maintain its current troop strength in South Korea.

"We want you to stay until we've established a peace mechanism, until we reunify the country. But even after reunification, the U.S. presence will be needed," Mr. Lee said.

Even North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has said he shares that view, the ambassador said.

With about 1,250 troops in Iraq, South Korea has the fourth-largest contingent in the alliance after the United States, Britain and Georgia, according to the South Korean defense ministry.

The Korean troops are in the northern, Kurdish-dominated region of the troubled country, which is largely peaceful.

They have suffered no casualties in combat, although the unit has had one suicide, the defense ministry said.

With increasing Turkish-Kurdish tensions, however, there are fears that the region may not remain peaceful.

South Korea will go ahead with plans to cut its deployment in half, to about 600 troops, as other alliance members such as Britain as doing.

But Mr. Roh urged the nation to extend its presence in Iraq by one year, through the end of 2008. South Korean troops had been slated to withdraw completely by the end of the year.

An extension must be ratified by the National Assembly. …