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South Korea Says US Troops Aren’t Going Anywhere, No Matter What Happens With The North

REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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A spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in explained Wednesday that the presence of U.S. troops in Korea will not be affected by a peace agreement with North Korea.

“The U.S. military presence in South Korea is a matter of the U.S.-Korea alliance. It has no relevance to any peace treaty,” Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom revealed, contradicting the statements of a special adviser who stirred controversy earlier this week by suggesting that there might not be a need for American troops in Korea if an agreement can be reached.

Moon Chung-in, special adviser to the South Korean president, argued in an article published in Foreign Affairs Monday that it would be “difficult to justify their continuing presence” if a peace treaty is signed with North Korea.

A presidential aide weighed in during a conversation with South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, explaining that “it is the government’s stance that the USFK [U.S. Forces Korea] is needed.”

“Special adviser Moon is an adviser on one hand, but on the other hand, he is a professor who enjoys the freedom of thoughts, freedom of speech,” he said. “The president appointed him as a special adviser to benefit from such ample political imagination in setting the direction of his policies.”

While North Korea has long criticized the U.S. military presence in South Korea, painting American forces as an existential threat, the North is not currently demanding the removal of U.S. troops (although it did prior to the 2018 Olympics). It did, however, demand an “end to hostilities” against it, which could be construed as an ambiguous reference to the nearly 30,000 U.S. troops on the peninsula, as well as American strategic assets.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to end war in Korea once and for all in their Panmunjom Declaration during a landmark inter-Korean summit in April. There was no mention of the U.S. military presence in the joint statement.

When peace was discussed at past inter-Korean summits with the late Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator indicated that North Korea would not oppose the USFK’s presence in South Korea if a peace treaty was signed.

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