Defense and State department officials remained firm in congressional testimony Thursday that North Korea must curtail its nuclear weapons program.
A trio of top officials also said the United States needs to maintain a strong military presence in the Pacific.
When members of the House International Relations Committee subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific asked if U.S. plans to move troops away from the demilitarized zone in Korea and possible plans to reshuffle other military units could give a different impression,the witnesses said it shouldn’t.
Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman,U.S. Pacific commander Adm. Thomas B. Fargo and Christopher LaFleur,special envoy for Northeast Asia security consultations for the State Department,told the subcommittee that increasing combat readiness and counterterrorism are the top priorities of Pacific military forces.
“North Korea's recent advances in its nuclear weapons program have created an increasingly serious situation,” Rodman said in a statement. “While President Bush has not taken any option off the table,the United States is actively pursuing diplomatic solutions through international institutions.”
The witnesses confirmed that troops would be redeployed in 2004 away from South Korea's capital,Seoul,to other bases farther away from the DMZ,which separates North and South Korea.
LaFleur said that the decision to move troops was made in the early 1990s for logistical reasons. The move is not a sign the United States is backing down from its commitment to South Korea,and the South Korean government supports the move,he said.
Rodman said the redeployment is part of a larger goal of making troops easier to move worldwide.
“We want the flexibility to maybe move forces from one place to another,” Rodman said.
Turning toward the nearly 38,000 troops stationed in Japan,Rodman said military bases in Okinawa would not be shut down.
However,Fargo wrote in his statement that public opinion polls show that about 70 percent of Japanese people want a reduction in the burden of American military presence. He added,however,that the U.S. military continues to address problems brought up by Japanese citizens.
Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega,D-American Samoa,questioned the need for military bases in Okinawa because Japan is one of the top world economies.
“Why do we need to be in Okinawa when Japan can defend themselves?” Faleomavaega asked.
Fargo said that the Japanese government provides more than $4.5 billion annually in support of the troops and that without the bases it would be much harder to defend American interests in the region.
Besides North Korea,the other large state threat posed in the region is the ongoing dispute between Taiwan and China.
While LaFleur,Fargo and Rodman said they do not support independence for Taiwan,Rodman said the Bush administration remains committed to defending Taiwan. Fargo said the buildup of missiles along the Taiwan Strait continues to be the most contentious issue between the United States and China. All the witnesses said relations between the two countries have improved.
The other primary focus for Pacific security is counterterrorism efforts primarily focused on Indonesia and the Philippines. Rodman said Indonesia has responded more actively to fight terrorism since the bombing at a Bali nightclub in October.
“Since the Bali bombing,the Indonesian government has been much more galvanized and much more energetic,” Rodman said.
Fargo said that American troops would likely be called to the Philippines later in the year for a training exercise aimed at combating terrorist groups. The subcommittee's chair,Rep. James A. Leach,R-Iowa,said the Bush administration should consult with Congress if a combat mission becomes necessary.