National Security Adviser John Bolton on Friday dismissed a New York Times story about plans for a troop drawdown in South Korea as “utter nonsense.” The Pentagon also said the report is “false,” and President Donald Trump stated that a troop withdrawal is “not on the table.”
The New York Times story, published on Thursday, cited “several people briefed on the deliberations” who claimed President Trump ordered the Pentagon to “prepare options for drawing down American troops in South Korea.”
Early in the piece, it was stated that Trump did not give this order to put troop withdrawal on the table as a bargaining chip with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un during the upcoming Trump-Kim summit. Instead, the Times’ sources said the plan was acknowledged that “a peace treaty between the two Koreas could diminish the need for the 28,500 soldiers currently stationed on the peninsula.”
The plan was also reportedly lined up with Trump’s longstanding determination to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea because the U.S. is not “adequately compensated for the cost,” and he feels their presence has become superfluous.
Pentagon officials reportedly were “rattled” by the secret withdrawal plan because they feared it would leave South Korea and Japan feeling abandoned and vulnerable at the very moment the U.S. needs their unwavering support.
On the other hand, the same NYT report said officials “emphasized that rethinking the size and configuration of the American force was overdue, regardless of the sudden flowering of diplomacy with North Korea.” Evidently, some officials were much more “rattled” than others.
National Security Adviser John Bolton and the Pentagon disputed the report in very strong terms on Friday.
“The New York Times story is utter nonsense. The President has not asked the Pentagon to provide options for reducing American forces stationed in South Korea,” said Bolton.
“The New York Times story is false. The President has not asked the Pentagon to provide options for reducing American forces stationed in South Korea. The Department of Defense’s mission in South Korea remains the same, and our force posture has not changed,” said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan.
Late on Friday morning, President Trump himself weighed in from Air Force One and stated U.S. troop withdrawal is “not on the table” for his summit with Kim Jong-un.
The Daily Beast noted that many analysts and officials in South Korea expect some form of American troop drawdown as the result of successful negotiations with North Korea, either as a point agreed to during negotiations or as the inevitable result of improved relations on the Korean peninsula. For that matter, some influential South Koreans desire the reduction of American troop levels, a point made in the original New York Times article as well.