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Pullout concerns grow

June 07,2018
Concerns are growing over the possibility of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un discussing a reduction of U.S. Forces in South Korea (USFK). In a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Joseph Yun, former special representative for North Korea policy in the State Department, said the issue of pulling out U.S. forces from its allied countries, especially South Korea, must not be dealt with in any discussions or negotiations with North Korea.

In the same Senate hearing, Victor Cha, a professor at Georgetown University and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, expressed worries about the possibility of the Trump administration agreeing to withdraw USFK from South Korea in return for an ambiguous North Korean promise of denuclearization. That would be a serious mistake if it really happens. Despite repeated denials by the Trump administration, top U.S. experts on the Korean Peninsula are increasingly concerned about a “bad deal” between Trump and Kim in their June 12 summit in Singapore.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis denied such a chance flatly. On a flight home after attending the Asia Security Conference in Singapore, he emphatically said that USFK will not leave South Korea, stressing that it is not on the summit’s agenda. Nevertheless, the possibility of the U.S. Armed Forces withdrawing from South Korea is being repeatedly raised by the U.S. media.

Trump should be held accountable for triggering confusion about it. After meeting with North Korean envoy Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, at the White House last Friday, Trump was asked by reporters if he discussed a U.S. Forces withdrawal with Kim. Trump said he talked about nearly everything with the North Korean emissary. That is an indirect admission that he dealt with the issue in the Oval Office. During the campaign, Trump went so far as to threaten to pull U.S. troops from South Korea after criticizing South Korea’s defense cost-sharing.

As the strong alliance has been the cornerstone of South Korea’s security over the past seven decades, a pullout of U.S. Forces is a matter of life and death. Washington and Pyongyang must not make a deal over such a critical issue. The Moon Jae-in administration must prevent such a mishap. At the same time, Moon must not forget that a declaration to end the war — which he is ardently pushing for — can serve as an excuse for a pullout of USFK.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 7, Page 30