US ready to withdraw South Korea troops

Despite the worsening confrontation with North Korea, Washington is considering pulling some or all of its 37,000 troops away from the South's border, and perhaps out of the Korean peninsula altogether.

At a question-and-answer session with Pentagon employees yesterday, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, said Washington's existing force deployments in Europe and Korea were a Cold War relic.

He added that the South Korean economy was "25 to 35 times" as large as that of the reclusive Communist north, meaning that Seoul had "all the capability in the world of providing the kind of upfront deterrent that's needed". In their current position, close to the Demilitarised Zone separating the two states, the American force was "intrusive" for the South Koreans and "not very flexible" for use elsewhere, Mr Rumsfeld said.

His words reflect the increasing controversy in the South over the presence of American troops. Some restaurants in Seoul have even warned off US servicemen after allegations of crimes committed against Korean civilians.

The South has also been critical of the Bush administration's hard line towards the North, saying that it has undermined its own efforts to build ties with its neighbour and contributed to the present escalation of tensions.

North Korea has restarted a nuclear reactor, which Washington says is only of use for military purposes.

A group of top former Clinton officials – led by Madeleine Albright, who as Secretary of State visited the North in 2000 – joined Senate Democrats in demanding immediate direct talks with Pyongyang.

George Bush has refused, claiming that to do so before North Korea renounced its nuclear ambitions would merely be appeasement of blackmail by a "rogue" regime.

The North's next and even more alarming step might be to switch on the reprocessing plant at the Yongbyon nuclear complex north of Pyongyang, a possible prelude to the manufacture of several plutonium-based nuclear weapons by the summer. This would involve the transfer of 8,000 spent fuel rods now in a cooling pond to the plant.

But as Mr Rumsfeld made clear, the US would not be deterred from making troop adjustments. "Whether the forces would come home or whether they'd move south down the peninsula or to some neighbouring area" was in the final stages of discussion, he said.

The US strategy, analysts say, is to maintain its deterrent umbrella over South Korea, but from a longer range. A foretaste came yesterday with the arrival of a first batch of 24 B-1 and B-52 longer range bombers on the island of Guam, 2,000 miles from North Korean territory.

Washington insists the deployment is precautionary, intended as reminder to the North that the US could handle any crisis on Korea even as it massed forces in the Gulf for an invasion of Iraq. Washington wanted "to show countries throughout the region that we don't have all our eggs in one basket", a spokesman at the US Pacific Air Force headquarters in Hawaii said. But Pyongyang described the action last night as another "preparation for an attack".

Tensions escalated further at the weekend when North Korean fighters briefly intercepted a US reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan, in the first such incident since 1969.

Last year, Washington and Seoul agreed on a cut in the number of American bases in South Korea, from 41 to 25 over the next 10 years – but without reducing the overall strength of the US troops.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
Nemanja Matic holds the Capital One Cup with Branislav Ivanovic on Sunday
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th-century cartographer created the atlas
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Recruitment Genius: Water Jetting / HGV Driver - Industrial Services

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Skilled Labouring staff with id...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Executive - OTE £30,000

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Salary: £16k - £20k Dependant o...

Recruitment Genius: Accountant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist two partner firm o...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot