Clinton promises U.S. will protect allies from attack He stresses commitment to defend South Korea during visits to bases

November 23, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SEOUL, South Korea -- With rogue nations like North Korea and Iraq threatening to develop weapons of mass destruction, President Clinton promised yesterday that the United States will defend its friends against attack.

"America will continue to do what it takes to promote the security of our citizens, and our friends and allies, to be a force for peace as we have been in Haiti, in Northern Ireland, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in the Middle East," he said.

"Our ability to succeed in promoting peace is uniquely due to the fact that we can back up our diplomatic efforts when necessary with military strength."

While Clinton repeated his endorsement of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's policy of peacefully engaging North Korea, he spent his last day here visiting military bases to underscore America's commitment to defending South Korea. Afterward, Clinton flew to Guam, a staging base for U.S. warplanes, for a visit as he makes his way back to Washington.

In Korea, Clinton traveled first to the Korean Training Center, where American and South Korean soldiers train with M-1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and K-1 Korean tanks. After hiking through the hilly terrain, Clinton ate lunch with American soldiers.

The United States keeps about 37,000 troops in South Korea, which has remained technically at war with Communist North Korea since an armistice stopped fighting 45 years ago.

He then went to Osan Air Base, one of the front lines of defense against North Korea.

"One of the greatest threats the world now faces is weapons of mass destruction," Clinton said there. "Though our attention lately has been focused on Iraq's efforts in that area, North Korea is also a major concern."

Standing in a hangar before a row of A-10 Warthog attack planes and F-16 fighter jets, Clinton spoke to about 1,000 airmen and other military personnel. "Here at Osan," he said, "you are critical to this most dangerous battleground, deterring and, if necessary, defending against, chemical and biological attack."

The United States believes North Korea is preparing an underground site to develop plutonium for use in nuclear weapons, a violation of a 1994 agreement.

Clinton demanded that North Korea "move ahead to dismantle its nuclear weapons program as it has agreed to do. It must comply with its obligations under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. It must halt its efforts to develop and proliferate chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles."

Until North Korea proves itself a peaceful neighbor, Clinton told the troops, "we must remain ready. And thanks to you, we will."

The troops cheered when Clinton said he and Congress have agreed to spend $1.1 billion to improve military capability. But they cheered loudest when he said he and Congress agreed to increase pay to start closing the gap between military and civilian salaries.

Pub Date: 11/23/98

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