- Citing people familiar with the discussions, The New York Times reported on Thursday that President Donald Trump had directed the Pentagon to draw up plans to reduce the number of US troops in South Korea.
- Officials declined to tell The Times whether Trump was looking at a complete or partial withdrawal.
- Trump has previously suggested pulling US troops out of South Korea, citing “a very big trade deficit” with South Korea as justification.
- The White House on Friday denied the report.
President Donald Trump has indicated he may be considering pulling some US troops out of South Korea.
Citing several people familiar with the discussions, The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump had ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for a drawdown. Officials declined to tell the newspaper whether Trump was looking at a complete or partial withdrawal.
The Times’ sources said the plans were not intended to be a concession ahead of a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that is likely to center on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
The sources added that a possible peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula – something floated by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their historic summit last week – could reduce the need for a US military presence in the region.
In a statement, John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, called The Times’ article “utter nonsense.”
“The president has not asked the Pentagon to provide options for reducing American forces stationed in South Korea,” Bolton said.
South Korea’s Yonhap News reported that an official with South Korea’s presidential Blue House also disputed The Times’ report, saying a US National Security Council representative assured them that it was “not true.”
North Korea views the 23,500 US troops stationed in South Korea as a provocative reminder of a US-South Korea military partnership, though Washington and Seoul have characterised it as a defensive posture.
North Korea has historically railed against the US’s presence and threatened to retaliate against the annual joint military exercises between the US and South Korea.
Trump has previously justified a potential drawing down of US troops in the region by citing “a very big trade deficit” with South Korea and saying that “our allies care about themselves” and not the US.
“We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military,” Trump said in March.
“We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea,” Trump added. “Let’s see what happens.”
South Korea’s finance minister, Kim Dong-yeon, said after Trump’s remarks that it was not “ideal to link an economic issue” with an issue like the withdrawal of US troops.
Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to the South Korean president, suggested in an op-ed article in Foreign Affairs on Monday that a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula could render the current troop levels unnecessary.
“What will happen to US forces in South Korea if a peace treaty is signed?” the adviser wrote. “It will be difficult to justify their continuing presence.”
Moon’s op-ed article drew a swift rebuke from the Blue House.
“US troops stationed in South Korea are an issue regarding the alliance between South Korea and the United States,” said Kim Eui-kyeom, a Blue House spokesman. “It has nothing to do with signing peace treaties.”
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