The United States will keep 37,000 troops in South Korea until the Communist government in North Korea proves it is not attempting to build a nuclear weapon, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said Thursday.
"We will keep the planned reductions under Phase Two on hold until the uncertainties about North Korea's nuclear programs are resolved," Cheney said.
A second phase of U.S. troop withdrawals had been scheduled to start Jan. 1, 1993, and run through 1995.
In 1990, the two nations agreed on an initial withdrawal that pared about 7,000 U.S. military personnel from South Korea. The second phase was to have cut 6,500 more troops.
Cheney accused North Korea of fostering an aggressive program to develop nuclear weapons. Until it is halted, he added, Washington "is not prepared to move forward with any adjustment" in the U.S. troop level on the Korean peninsula.
The secretary spoke after two days of meetings with his South Korean counterpart, Defense Minister Choi Sae Chang.
In a communique, Washington and Seoul "expressed concern that North Korea is continuing efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles." It also termed the buildup of offensive forces destabilizing.
The Pentagon estimates that the cost of maintaining the 37,000 troops in South Korea will be about $900-million by the late 1990s.