Amid ongoing tensions with North Korea over its weapons programs, President Donald Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning that he was allowing Japan and South Korea “to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States.”
The early-morning tweet came a day after Trump spoke with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and gave “in-principle approval to South Korea’s initiative to lift restrictions on their missile payload capabilities” and “conceptual approval for the purchase of many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment,” the White House readout said.
But Korean media reports on Wednesday indicate that Washington and Seoul may not be on the same page with regard to those sales.
The South Korean president’s office said the two leaders didn’t discuss any new arms deals, but rather, how South Korea could adopt sophisticated US weaponry and technology in response to threats posed North Korea, according to The Korea Herald.
“There was no such conversation about purchasing weaponry during the phone call,” an official from the South Korean president’s office told The Herald.
Officials at the Pentagon told The Washington Examiner that they weren’t aware of any new sales being planned, though, they noted, the Pentagon typically doesn’t comment on such matters.
The State Department gives final approval of any foreign-military sales. When asked about any such deals in the offing, a State Department official told Business Insider the two leaders had “agreed to maximise pressure on North Korea using all means at their disposal” and “pledged to strengthen joint military capabilities,” while reiterating that Trump signed off in principle on lifting missile-payload capabilities and gave “conceptual approval” for weapons sales.
A State Department spokeswoman declined repeated questioning on what “conceptual approval” actually meant. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s tweet on Tuesday came two days after Trump lashed out at South Korea for what he said was “their talk of appeasement with North Korea,” a comment that elicited surprise there and underscored for some the perception they’re dealing with an “unreasonable” partner in the White House.
The comments from the South Korean president’s office are the second time in a week that a US ally has walked back an assertion made by Trump about US weapons sales.
During a press conference on Monday with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Trump said the Scandinavian country was “purchasing large amounts of our great F-18 aircraft from Boeing,” referring to it as one of “the great fighter jets.”
Finland is looking to spend $US8 billion to $US12 billion to replace its ageing fleet of 62 F/A-18s, but Niinisto denied Trump’s remark the next day.
“It seems that on the sale side, past decisions and hopes about future decisions have mixed,” Niinisto told Finnish reporters on Tuesday. “The purchase is just starting, and that is very clear here.”
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