US will not reducing number of troops in South Korea despite talks with Kim Jong-un, says Trump

Comments come as the US president prepares to meet Kim Jong-un

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Friday 04 May 2018 14:51
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Trump on North Korea meeting: 'we have a date and location'

Donald Trump has insisted that withdrawing US troops from South Korea is “not on the table” - though he admitted he wanted Washington stop paying so much for their deployment.

The US currently has around 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, a contingent that has been there since the conclusion of hostilities between North Korean and South Korean forces more than 60 years ago.

This week it was reported that Mr Trump - who on Friday announced a date and location had been agreed for his meeting with Kim Jong-un - had asked his military chiefs to come up with options about reducing the number of US troops located in South Korea.

On Friday, Mr Trump’s National security adviser John Bolton called that report, in the New York Times, “utter nonsense”. “The President has not asked the Pentagon to provide options for reducing American forces stationed in South Korea.”

Speaking to reporters as he left the White House on his way to Dallas, where is to speak at the annual leadership conference of the National Rifle Association, said: “Troops are not on the table.”

Yet he did admit he would like to say money of the deployment of US soldiers. Mr Trump has previously suggested he wants to reduce US troop numbers on the Korean peninsula. The cost of their presence costs more than $800m, with South Korea paying more than half the cost.

Reports suggest the Trump administration is demanding the Seoul pay virtually the entire cost of the arrangement, which expires at the end of 2018.

The talk about troop numbers comes amid a backdrop of improved relations between North and South Korea and an historic summit between the leaders of the two nations in the demilitarised zone that separates their countries.

North Korea 'suspends' missile and nuclear tests

The Times said that while the prospect of reducing troop numbers was not intended to be used as part of a bargaining chip ahead of Mr Trump’s own planned meeting with North Korean Kim Jung-un, it quoted officials who said the prospect of a peace deal could create circumstances in which the number of soldiers could be reduced.

The report also quoted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis whose comments suggested the future of a US military presence there could be on the table.

“That’s part of the issues that we’ll be discussing in negotiations with our allies first, and of course with North Korea,” he said last week. “For right now, we just have to go along with process, have the negotiations and not try to make preconditions or presumptions about how it’s going to go.”

The posturing comes as South Korea’s national security adviser is in Washington to meet Mr Bolton, ahead of the expected summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim. It also follows an historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea a week ago.

Reuters said the US National Security Council asked Chung Eui-yong to fly to the United States to discuss matters related to the summit. The United States had asked that the visit be kept quiet due to the issues to be addressed at meetings there, the news agency said.

South Korea has been working closely with old ally the United States on efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, with an easing of tensions in recent months after threats of war from North Korea and Mr Trump.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Mr Kim pledged to work for the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula at a summit on their heavily fortified border on April 27.

North Korea has said it is ready to discuss denuclearisation and give up its nuclear programme as long as the security of Mr Kim’s regime is guaranteed.

On Friday, Mr Trump said: “We’re having very substantive talks with North Korea and a lot of things have already happened with respect to the hostages. I think you're going to see very good things.”

Of his planned meeting with the North Korean leader, he added: “We have a date, we have a place.”

Mr Trump has suggested holding his meeting with Mr Kim, which is expected in late May or early June, at the border village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas, where Moon and Kim met.

This would require close coordination with Seoul, although officials in the South Korean president’s office have said there has been no official requests to prepare the venue.

It came amid a backdrop of improved relations between North and South Korea and an historic summit between the leaders of the two nations in the demilitarised zone that separates their countries.

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