Panetta: Budget cuts won't mean benefit cuts

By ROBERT BURNS | October 26, 2011 | 4:25 AM EDT

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is assuring troops in South Korea that coming budget cuts will not mean a loss of benefits promised when they joined the military.

Panetta said Wednesday that tighter Pentagon budgets will result in force reductions, but not a cut in benefits like retirement pay for those now in uniform.

Panetta flew to Seoul from Tokyo, where he consulted with Japanese leaders and met Wednesday morning with U.S. sailors on board the USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the Navy's 7th Fleet.

On Thursday, Panetta plans to meet with top South Korean officials, including President Lee Myung-bak.