President Roh Tae Woo said Monday that the South Korean people, who once welcomed American troops, would now prefer “a lower U.S. military profile” in their country.
But Roh told an interviewer that steps initiated by his government to alter the military arrangement here are aimed at improving “the Korean-American security relationship” to the “mutual benefit of both countries.”
And he made it clear that he is in no hurry to have these steps put into effect. Now being discussed with U.S. officials, the steps include:
-- Eventually freeing South Korean troops from U.S. operational control.
-- Moving U.S. military headquarters out of Seoul.
-- Revising the status-of-forces agreement to give Korean courts more jurisdiction over U.S. servicemen involved in criminal acts.
-- Removing U.S. Armed Forces Network telecasts from a channel that is received in Korean homes.
Will Not Weaken Security
Roh said these changes will in no way weaken South Korea’s security or “constitute any detriment to U.S. strategic interests in this part of the world.”
He said that because of the continuing military threat from Communist North Korea, this is not the time to remove South Korean troops from the operational command of the American general who heads the U.S.-Korea Combined Forces Command.
But, he added, “It is more than natural that a sovereign state should have the power to control its own military forces.”
He said his government and Washington are discussing changes in the command structure and added, “When relations between the two Koreas improve, and there is a definite guarantee that tension will be reduced and peace secured and cooperative relations between the south and north are established, that will be the time to think of changing the present command structure.”
Then, he went on, “we can discuss the reduction or even the withdrawal of American forces, but with no change in the circumstances and the persistence of the military threat from North Korea, this is not the proper time to discuss reductions of American forces or a change in the command structure.”
Roh said his government is in the process of moving its military headquarters out of the capital and that it also wants the U.S. military headquarters moved. Seoul’s population has increased from less than 1 million to 10 million since the two headquarters were established, and Roh said this has made their presence “inconvenient to the citizens and inconvenient to both headquarters.”
He said the South Korean government would bear the cost of providing new land and buildings for the U.S. forces, but Washington, he said, should pay for the furnishings and equipment.
Still, he added, moving the U.S. headquarters out of Seoul is “not a pressing goal--we can take some step-by-step measures.”
Sees Danger Easing
Roh, a former army general who was popularly elected after promising to bring democracy to this country, said that contacts with Communist governments have produced “a slight beginning in the reduction of the threat” from North Korea.
“Based on sources of information I cannot disclose,” he said, " . . . I do have a feeling that our hopes and expectations (for a reduction of tension between North Korea and South Korea) will somehow be met in the future.
“As more and more socialist countries begin to understand us better and develop cooperative relations with us, that is bound to have some influence on North Korea. Changing external circumstances will be helpful in our efforts for reunification. I believe that process has now begun.”
Roh recently lifted a ban on South Korean trade with North Korea, and he has called on President Kim Il Sung of North Korea to meet with him. He said he is ready to discuss the nonaggression pact that North Korea wants, and he has said he is in favor of revising South Korea’s anti-Communist National Security Law, which North Korea has condemned. But, he said on Monday, he is not prepared to meet a North Korean demand for cancellation of annual military exercises involving U.S. and South Korean forces.
He said these exercises are defensive in nature, and he again invited North Korea to send observers. And, he said, North Korea should allow South Korea to send observers to its military exercises.
This is “very important to any declaration of nonaggression,” he said.
In Washington, the U.S. government Monday announced the relaxation of a trade embargo on North Korea and said travel between the two countries will be facilitated.
When Roh met with President Reagan in Washington on Oct. 20, he asked that the United States take steps to broaden its contacts with North Korea. On Monday, speaking before the U.S. government announcement, he said he is not disappointed that these moves will probably not go as far as the steps South Korea has taken.
“Being tentative measures, they were bound to be limited in scope,” he said. “They may be less liberal but, in principle, we share the same goals. Being cautious has its merits.”
Roh said he has taken steps to ensure that South Korea’s armed forces and its intelligence organizations do not interfere in politics. No details have been announced, but Roh said that immediately after he took office in February, he “rearranged the organization and functions” of the National Security Planning Agency and the Defense Security Command.
He described as an isolated incident the beating and stabbing of a journalist last August at the order of generals in the Army Intelligence Command. The journalist had been critical of South Korea’s “military culture.”
“I believe,” Roh said, “that the military shares my view that they belong to the people and that they are committed to democracy . . . with their sole purpose to defend the nation against aggression. The time for the military to play any political role has passed.”
The biggest political problem facing Roh’s government is what to do about a widespread call for action against his predecessor, Chun Doo Hwan. But Roh expressed confidence that his old friend and army colleague will deal with the situation himself, without Roh’s intervention.
He said Chun “understands the contributions he has made to the nation (and) also understands that he has been accused of some wrongdoing. He will decide for himself . . . whatever actions he deems appropriate . . . so there is no reason for me to advise him to do one thing or another.”
Demands that Roh, Chun’s handpicked successor, dissociate himself from Chun have dominated politics here for months. Radical students have threatened to attack Chun’s house Thursday, on the anniversary of a 1929 student uprising against Japanese colonial rule, and opposition parties have demanded that Chun apologize and return to the state the wealth he allegedly accumulated illicitly while in office.
The disposition of the charges against Chun is considered the key to Roh’s ability to ensure political stability.
Roh said an outpouring of articles and exposes of alleged corruption and abuse of power under Chun is the result of a “flowering of freedom of the press,” and there have been some inaccurate charges, “exaggerations and misconceptions.”
“We need self-restraint to handle this problem,” he said. “It must be handled with reason, not emotion.”
Roh noted that the leaders of the opposition, which now controls the National Assembly, agreed during last year’s presidential campaign that “for the sake of the development of democracy, no political retaliation should be carried out.”
When Chun left the presidency after the single term to which he was limited by the constitution, it was the first time that South Korea had experienced a peaceful transfer of power. But the country has not yet allowed a leader to go into retirement in peace and security.
President Syngman Rhee, ousted in a student revolt in 1960, was sent into exile in Hawaii. President Park Chung Hee was assassinated in 1979.