Will Trump remove US troops from S Korea? Issue raises questions ahead of Kim summit
The New York Times's report on May 3 that US President Donald Trump sought preparations from Pentagon to reduce American troops in South Korea, one of its closest allies in the Far East, has affected all concerned sides, especially ahead of the widely anticipated talks between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The report is also of significance at this time since Washington and Seoul are in the middle of negotiations of an agreement to share the costs of the deployed troops for Trump has always maintained his reservation over the US paying for the umbrella covering its allies across the world.
Sensing the impact that the NYT report could have on the proceedings, both the US and South Korea objected to it saying it was untrue. While Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton rubbished the report more than once, the Blue House or the official residence of the South Korean president also said the report did not say it right.
The reduction of the troops was not a bargaining chip in Trump's talks with Kim, the NYT cited sources who informed about it as saying but rather a logical conclusion after the two Koreas entered into a peace treaty. It also said that complete withdrawal of 28,500 US troops from the Korean Peninsula was unlikely and cited the sources as saying that a reconsideration of the size and configuration of the troops was the call of the hour, irrespective of the rapprochement with North Korea.
Trump himself remarked that withdrawing US forces from North Korea was "not on the table," AP reported. He, however, reiterated later that he would "like to save the money" sometime in the future.
Trump has been stressing since his presidential campaign that North Korea grew its nuclear weight despite the American forces' presence in South Korea and also that Washington was not getting adequate compensation for maintaining those troops stationed mainly to defend Japan, another of the US's close ally in the region.
On April 27, when US Secretary of Defense James Mattis was asked whether it would be necessary to maintain the American troops on the Korean Peninsula if indeed there was a peace treaty, he said that was part of the issues that the US would be discussing with its allies first beside North Korea.
The issue of a possible reduction of American troops from the peninsula becomes significant ahead of the Trump-Kim talks because if Trump really removes the troops to save his money, it could generate serious reactions in South Korea and Japan whose security is closely related with it. Nobody yet knows which way Kim would eventually go about his promises on denuclearisation and a prior removal of troops would make it all the more uncertain.
Besides, Trump has been dealing with Kim from a position of strength so far. If he indeed concedes troop reductions for North Korea's denuclearisation, then the message going out to the world could be not as positive as it seemed earlier.