WASHINGTON, April 20, 2008 – The United States will keep its current number of troops — roughly 28,000 — deployed to the Republic of Korea, President Bush said yesterday. During a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart President Lee Myung-Bak, Bush said the two leaders constantly assess the need for U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula, and both agree on the necessity of maintaining present levels there.

“We reached an agreement to maintain the current U.S. troop level on the peninsula. This is a mutual agreement that benefits both our nations and will strengthen our alliance,” Bush told reporters at Camp David.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-Hee will coordinate the implementation of U.S. forces, the president said.

On this first-ever visit by a Korean head of state to the presidential retreat, Bush thanked Lee for South Korea’s military commitment in the Middle East.

“We’re also thankful for the Koreans’ contributions to young democracies, whether it be Afghanistan or Iraq or Lebanon,” Bush said. “And we want to thank you and your people, Mr. President, for those sacrifices.”

During closed-door talks before the news conference, the leaders also discussed South Korea’s request to upgrade its foreign military sales status. The Foreign Military Sales program is the government-to-government method for selling U.S. defense equipment, services and training, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency Web site.

“Korea has asked to upgrade its foreign military sales status with the United States and to have the same access to U.S. military technologies as NATO and other key allies, and I strongly support this request and have instructed Secretaries Rice and Gates to work with the Congress to get this done,” Bush said, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The U.S. and South Korea are working alongside China, Russia and Japan to press the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, Bush said. These six-party talks have resulted in North Korea beginning to disable plutonium production facilities at Yongbyon, Bush added.

“And now North Korea must fulfill its other obligations: provide a full declaration of its nuclear programs and proliferation activities in a verifiable way,” the president said.

President Lee said South Korea and the U.S. do not “harbor hostile intent” towards North Korea, but rather seek to promote multilateral dialogue.

“I’m very happy with the results of today’s meeting, and we will work very closely together to see the complete dismantlement of the nuclear weapons program of North Korea, and we will work closely within the six-party talks framework,” Lee said.

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