November 07, 2018 10:30
The top U.S. military officer on Monday hinted that the U.S. Forces Korea could reduce its role if diplomatic efforts to engage North Korea make progress.
"The more successful we are in the diplomatic track, the more uncomfortable we will be in the military space," Reuters quoted Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford as telling a forum at Duke University.
"Because over time, this negotiation will take a form where we're going to have to start making some changes to the military posture on the peninsula," he added. "And we're prepared to do that in support" of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He did not say what the changes to the USFK's "posture" might entail, but there are fears here that this could mean reducing troop numbers.
"It's hard to grasp the exact meaning of what Gen. Dunford said," Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters. But he added that even North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said there would have to be no direct link between declaring a formal end to the Korean War and the withdrawal of the USFK.
Back in August, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that would ensure that the USFK's troop numbers do not fall below 22,000 without congressional authorization. And in a joint statement issued with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo in Washington on Oct. 31, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis "emphasized the commitment to maintain the current force level of USFK in order to defend" South Korea.
But at other times, Mattis and other U.S. officials have hinted that the U.S. troop presence could be on the negotiating table. Asked by reporters in April if it would be necessary to keep the USFK on the Korean Peninsula if a peace treaty is signed, Mattis said, "That's part of the issues that we'll be discussing in negotiations with our allies first, and of course with North Korea."
Right after his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters, "I want to get our soldiers out... I want to bring our soldiers back home."
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