Trump pledges to defend South Korea in phone call with Park, as Pyongyang urges policy shift
US President-elect Donald Trump pledged his commitment to defend South Korea under an existing security alliance during a phone call with South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday, Yonhap news agency said, citing diplomatic sources.
Trump had suggested during the election campaign he would be willing to withdraw US military stationed in South Korea unless Seoul paid a greater share of the cost of the deployment. There are about 28,500 US troops based in South Korea in combined defence against North Korea.
Park’s office said she spoke by phone with Trump Thursday morning Hong Kong time, but could not immediately confirm what was discussed.
During the call which lasted just over 10 minutes, Trump said the United States would maintain a strong defence posture to protect South Korea, Yonhap cited unnamed diplomatic sources as saying.
It came as North Korea on Thursday warned the incoming Trump administration will have to deal with a “nuclear state”, saying Washington’s push for denuclearisation was an “outdated illusion”.
“If there is anything the Obama administration has done... it has put the security of the US mainland in the greatest danger,” said an editorial carried by the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.
The editorial, which did not mention Trump by name, follows growing calls for the United States to change tack on North Korea, with US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last month labelling attempts to denuclearise the North as a “lost cause”.
Trump also spoke to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and there are plans for a New York meeting next week.
The conversation came after South’s ruling party chief said that the deployment in South Korea of the US military’s THAAD system, designed to counter North Korea’s missile threat, will go ahead as planned under a Trump administration.
Saenuri Party policy chief Kim Gwang-lim said plans for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-missile system, which has angered Beijing, were near complete.
Kim briefed the media Wednesday after a meeting by senior party members with national security ministers, including Defence Minister Han Min-koo, to discuss the US presidential election.
“THAAD is all but confirmed so it’ll go ahead,” Kim quoted Han as saying.
But the South Korean government was concerned Trump may make unpredictable proposals to North Korea over the isolated country’s nuclear weapons programme, a ruling party official said, quoting top national security officials.
A Trump spokesman said in September that North Korea’s most recent nuclear test was an example of the “catastrophic failures” of his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Trump said himself on the campaign trail that he would be willing to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to try to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
That proposal would represent a major shift in US policy toward the isolated nation.
Washington and Seoul agreed to deploy the THAAD system in South Korea to protect against North Korean threats. China, North Korea’s lone major ally, was angered by the decision as it feats the system’s powerful radar will be able to see into its territory.
The commander of US forces in South Korea said on Friday the system would be deployed to South Korea within eight to 10 months, according to an official from the US forces in South Korea.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse