Trump orders Pentagon to consider reducing U.S. troops in South Korea

Trump orders Pentagon to consider reducing U.S. troops in South Korea

WASHINGTON: U.S. President Donald Trump has lunch with troops at U.S. military installation Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, November 7, 2017. REUTERS

President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for reducing the number of U.S. troops in South Korea, the New York Times reported on Thursday, citing several people briefed on the deliberations.

Reduced U.S. 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 program, the Times said.

The officials said, however, that a peace treaty between the two Koreas could diminish the need for the 23,500 U.S. soldiers currently stationed on the peninsula, the newspaper said.

A full withdrawal of U.S. troops was unlikely, the officials said, according to the paper.

But a U.S. National Security Council official told a visiting South Korean official in Washington via telephone the report was false, the South Korean presidential office said in a statement.

The White House and Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump has said the United States should consider reducing the number of troops in South Korea unless South Korea shoulders more of the cost.

Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, before taking office as U.S. secretary of state, met Kim last month and reported the North Korean leader was not demanding the withdrawal of all U.S. forces as a precondition for a summit with Trump.

South Korea said on Wednesday the issue of U.S. 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.

South Korea’s national security adviser is in Washington to meet his U.S. counterpart, John Bolton, ahead of an expected summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, officials in Washington and Seoul said.

The U.S. National Security Council asked Chung Eui-yong to fly to the United States to discuss matters related to the summit, a South Korean presidential official told reporters on Friday.

The United States had asked that the visit be kept quiet due to the issues to be addressed at meetings there, said the official, who declined to be identified.

A senior administration official in Washington confirmed Chung’s visit and his meeting with Bolton.

South Korea has been working closely with old ally the United States on efforts to rein in North Korea’s development of weapons.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s 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 says it is ready to discuss denuclearisation and give up its nuclear programme as long as the security of Kim’s regime is guaranteed.

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.

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 U.S. officials pertaining to North Korea, the South Korean official said.

Chung was last in Washington shortly before the Moon-Kim summit. APP/AFP