SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. military forces in South Korea are not subject to negotiations between North Korea and the United States because they are a matter for the U.S.-South Korean alliance, a senior official in South Korea’s presidential office said on Friday.
U.S. President Donald Trump said after his historic summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday that he would stop “expensive, provocative” war games that U.S. troops conduct with the South.
He also said he would eventually like to bring U.S. troops home from South Korea, adding, “That’s not part of the equation. At some point, I hope it would be.”
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war.
“Let me be clear. There has been no discussions and no change in position on the matter of the issue of U.S. troops in South Korea,” said the high-level South Korean official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Even before the summit, U.S. officials said the future of American troops on the Korean peninsula was something that would be a matter for Seoul and Washington to deal with.
Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the status of U.S. troops in South Korea would not be on the table during the meeting between Trump and Kim. Mattis left the door open to the issue being discussed down the road between Seoul and Washington if certain conditions were met.
Before Tuesday’s summit, there had been talks between North Korea and the United States about completing an “early” denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, the South Korean official added, but did not elaborate.
The official said the U.S.-North Korea summit “jumpstarted” stalled negotiations on denuclearisation and hoped South Korea would contribute to speeding up the process.
After the summit, Trump and Kim issued a joint statement in which the North reaffirmed its commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula - a promise it has made in the past. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, charged by Trump with leading follow-up negotiations, said on Wednesday the United States hoped to achieve “major disarmament” by North Korea within the next 2-1/2 years.
Tough sanctions would remain on North Korea until its complete denuclearisation, Pompeo said on Thursday, apparently contradicting the North’s view that the process agreed at this week’s summit would be phased and reciprocal.
However, expectations of trade with North Korea have helped revive property prices in China’s border city of Dandong.
North Korea proposed to Seoul to disarm, on a trial basis, the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom, the only site in the Demilitarised Zone where both countries’ soldiers stand almost face to face, the South’s presidential spokesman said.
The offer by the North’s military officials came during talks with the South’s military on Thursday, and South Korea will “actively pursue” disarmament in the area, the spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, told reporters on Friday.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Writing by Joyce Lee and Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Jonathan Oatis and Frances Kerry