May 11, 2018 10:13
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday said the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea will not be on the agenda of a U.S.-North Korea summit in June.
The U.S. Forces Korea are a "stabilizing presence" in the region, Mattis told a Senate hearing. "That's not something that would be on the table in the initial negotiation."
"If during the negotiation this issue was to come up between our allies and us, that would be one thing -- between two allies, not a matter of the negotiation" with North Korea, he added.
His remarks seem aimed at quelling controversy in South Korea and the U.S. over whether the U.S. Forces Korea could be used as a bargaining chip. But that he only ruled it out for "the initial negotiation" set alarm bells ringing.
Reuters glossed the comments as meaning that Mattis "did not rule out that the United States could eventually examine troop levels in South Korea as part of a bilateral discussion between Washington and Seoul, potentially concurrent with talks with Pyongyang."
Still, they show Mattis backpedaling from remarks on April 27, when he told reporters the USFK is "part of the issues that we'll be discussing in negotiations with our allies first, and of course with North Korea."
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