Pres. Kim Takes Step towards `Redefining' US Forces

Article excerpt

President Kim Dae-jung, noting that North Korea doesn't want to see the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea, has taken the first step toward creating an inter-Korean consensus, or at least an atmosphere for a full-fledged debate on the role of the U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula and in East Asia.

Kim's statement is meaningful because it was put forward a few weeks before the resumption of the four-party peace talks designed to replace the Korean Armistice Agreement with a permanent peace mechanism.

For decades, North Korea has been depicted as a warmonger desirous of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea as part of a grand strategy to communize the southern half of the Korean peninsula.

However, Pyongyang has recently begun to exhibit some changes in its attitude toward the status of U.S. forces in South Korea.

Selig Harrison, a Woodrow Wilson Center researcher who visited North Korea in September 1995, quoted a senior North Korean Army officer as saying that what North Korea wants is not the withdrawal of U.S. forces, but an end to hostilities with North Korea.

According to Harrison, North Korea also acknowledged the reality that Washington could not withdraw its forces in South Korea overnight, partly due to its Asia strategies.

Calling it the recently-expressed North Korean position on the U.S. forces, President Kim made similar remarks Tuesday, saying North Korea doesn't care whether the U.S. forces are withdrawn or not as long as they are here as ``peacekeeping forces.''

It is not yet officially confirmed whether North Korea used the term ``peacekeeping forces,'' or whether Kim invented the word on the basis of information he acquired himself.

The Chief Executive was further quoted by his spokesman as saying that North Korea doesn't want to see the rivalry between China and Japan intensify in this region in the absence of U.S. forces, which have long played the role of a ``balance. …