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Washington asks Seoul for money for Afghanistan

White House admits deployment of Korean troops will be ‘controversial’   PLAY AUDIO

May 05,2009

The United States has asked South Korea for financial assistance to rebuild Afghanistan while at the same time acknowledging the public relations problems the Blue House would face if it deploys more troops to the war-torn country, a senior Lee Myung-bak administration official told the Joong-Ang Ilbo yesterday.

“Washington has made a request for a large amount of cash for Afghanistan if it proves too controversial to send troops,” the source said.

The request from U.S. President Barack Obama was delivered to the Lee Myung-bak administration via the South Korean Embassy in the United States.

“The U.S. government recently told the South Korean government that it understands that the South Korean public would disapprove if its government sends more Korean soldiers to Afghanistan,” the source said.

A senior Blue House official confirmed the request. “We will take into account the U.S.-Korea alliance and public sentiment before we make a final decision [on how to respond to the request],” the presidential aide added, denying that Washington had made a request for $100 million a year.

Kim Tae-hyo, President Lee’s secretary for national strategy, is scheduled to leave for Washington today for a four-day trip. One of Lee’s key foreign policy architects, Kim will coordinate a range of issues for the Lee-Obama summit in Washington on June 16. The Afghanistan request and the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement will be on the agenda, the Blue House source said.

Obama has asked the international community to provide more military and economic support to rebuild Afghanistan, which he has said is his administration’s top foreign policy priority.

South Korea and Japan are the only major U.S. allies not to have a military presence in Afghanistan. South Korea withdrew its 210-strong contingent in 2007 and Japan’s constitution bars it from deploying troops overseas.

South Korea’s share of the estimated $50 billion that the international community has contributed to Afghanistan since 2003 is about 0.25 percent. Japan has contributed $2 billion so far. “Because Japan cannot send troops, it tends to focus on economic assistance,” an official in Seoul said.

Meanwhile, a report in the Hankyoreh yesterday fueled speculation that South Korean troops might be sent to Afghanistan.

“The U.S. government has recently requested that the South Korean government re-examine the deployment of soldiers from the South Korean army as part of support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, sources indicate,” the newspaper’s English-language Web site reported.

“A government official said Sunday that the U.S. government recently presented specific requests through diplomatic channels, including troop deployment and increased financial support from the South Korean government toward the reconstruction of Afghanistan,” according to the report.

The Foreign Ministry of Korea said in response that “the [South Korean] government is not considering redeployment of troops to Afghanistan.”

South Korea sent medical and engineering troops to Afghanistan in February 2002, but the forces were withdrawn in 2007. Their mission was not extended after the Taliban kidnapped 23 Korean missionaries in July of that year because Seoul backed U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Moon Tae-young, a spokesman of Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said the U.S. government had not asked Seoul to redeploy troops. But the government is mulling a plan to expand its support for provincial reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, Moon added.



By Seo Seung-wook, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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