Donald Trump tells Pentagon to consider reducing US troops in South Korea, report says
Report came as Seoul’s security chief visits Washington on low profile trip to discuss US president’s meeting with North Korean leader
US President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for reducing the number of US troops in South Korea, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
However, national security adviser John Bolton on Friday dismissed the report.
“The New York Times story is utter nonsense,” Bolton said. “The president has not asked the Pentagon to provide options for reducing American forces stationed in South Korea.”
The newspaper cited several people briefed on the deliberations, but Seoul described the report as “not true”, quoting an official in Washington.
Reduced US troop levels are not intended to be a bargaining chip in Trump’s planned summit in late May or early June with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, the Times said.
The officials said, however, that a peace treaty between the two Koreas could reduce the need for the 23,500 American soldiers stationed on the peninsula, according to the newspaper. A full withdrawal of US troops was unlikely, though.
However, Seoul’s presidential office said on Friday that a “key” official at the US National Security Council told South Korean national security chief Chung Eui-yong the report was “not true”.
Trump has said the United States should consider reducing the number of troops in South Korea unless Seoul shoulders more of the cost.
New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his former role as CIA director, met Kim last month and reported that the North Korean leader was not demanding the withdrawal of all US forces as a condition for a summit with Trump.
South Korea said on Wednesday the issue of US troops stationed in the South was unrelated to any future peace treaty with North Korea and that American forces should stay even if such an agreement is signed.
The report came as Chung visited Washington to meet his US counterpart, John Bolton.
The US National Security Council asked him to fly to the US to discuss matters related to the summit, a South Korean presidential official told reporters on Friday.
Washington had asked that the visit be kept quiet due to the issues that would be addressed at the meetings, said the official, who declined to be identified.
Among issues to be decided before Trump can meet Kim are where and when they will hold their summit.
Trump has suggested holding the meeting, which is expected in late May or early June, at the border village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas – the same place Kim and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in held their historic summit last month.
This would require close coordination with Seoul, although officials in the South Korean president’s office have said there have been no official requests to prepare the venue for the summit.
Chung may address the issue of a venue in Washington but he was more likely to discuss a “bigger deal” with US officials pertaining to North Korea, the South Korean official said.
Chung was last in Washington just before the Moon-Kim summit.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse