Pentagon chief, at Korean DMZ, says US will not cut force in Korea

Pentagon chief, at Korean DMZ, says US will not cut force in Korea

PANMUNJOM,Korean Demilitarized Zone - U .S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel toured the Korean DMZ on Monday, at times under the watchful eye of North Korean soldiers, and said the Pentagon had no plan to reduce its 28,500-member force in the South despite budget constraints.

"This is probably the only place in the world where we have always a risk of confrontation," Hagel said after touring a single-story building with a corrugated metal roof where talks are held with North Koreans on Conference Row in the truce village of Panmunjom.

As Hagel walked through the building, which spans the military demarcation line between North and South, two North Korean soldiers peered through the windows on the northern side filming his movements.

"There's no margin of error up here," Hagel told reporters after walking through the structure. "It's a very important location that we need to pay attention to."

Hagel also visited the hilltop Observation Post Ouellette in the demilitarized zone (DMZ), where he looked across a valley into North Korea and received a briefing from South Korean Defence Minister Kim Kwan-jin. The post is named for Private Joseph Ouellette, who won the Medal of Honor in the Korean War.

The US defence secretary's visit to the demilitarized zone came on the first full day of a four-day trip to South Korea to celebrate the 60th anniversary of a mutual security alliance between the two countries.

Hagel will participate in talks about the future of the alliance with his South Korean counterpart and will attend a change-of-command ceremony for US forces in South Korea. He will be joined Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of US Pacific Command.

Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the former director of the US Joint Staff, will take over as commander of US forces in Korea from Army General James Thurman.

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