- South Korean officials are looking for clarification on comments President Donald Trump made about the status of US troops in the country.
- During a speech, Trump referenced what he called the US’s “big trade deficit” and its military presence in South Korea, prompting speculation over whether he was considering a withdrawal of US troops.
- White House officials flatly denied the suggestion.
South Korean officials reportedly sought clarification on some comments President Donald Trump made that generated speculation over whether the US would pull troops out of South Korea over a “big trade deficit.”
The officials reportedly made several phone calls to the US State Department and Pentagon after Trump referenced the US’s military presence in South Korea, and mentioned what he believed was a trade deficit, according to a Washington Post report published on Thursday.
“We have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them,” Trump reportedly said at a fundraiser in Missouri on Wednesday according to the newspaper. “So we lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military.”
“We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea,” Trump continued. “Let’s see what happens.”
Calls from the South Korean embassy in Washington to US Defence Department officials and diplomats were reportedly referred to the White House for comment, according to The Post.
A White House official said that Trump “did not suggest removing American forces from South Korea,” but was committed to improving trade relations with South Korea to benefit US workers, The Post said.
A senior military official balked at the notion of pulling US troops out of South Korea, and said such a move would be a concession to North Korea.
“I believe [regime leader Kim Jong Un] would do a victory dance,” US Pacific Command’s Adm. Harry Harris said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday.
Trump’s comments come a week after a South Korean delegation visited Washington to discuss several issues, including the renewal of the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) and the upcoming summits with North Korea. Trump previously called KORUS a “horrible” trade deal and vowed to renegotiate or terminate it.
South Korean lawmakers were also cringing after Trump imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminium imports earlier this month. South Korea, the third largest exporter to the US, will see a 25% tariff on steel, and a 10% tariff on aluminium.
In addition to the recent tariffs, South Korean companies, like LG and Samsung, were also hit by unilateral US tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels in January.