The Pentagon said on Thursday that there is “absolutely no truth” to a report in a South Korean newspaper suggesting it is considering withdrawing troops there.
South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo quoted an alleged “U.S. diplomatic source” as saying that Washington is “preparing to withdraw one brigade if negotiations with South Korea do not progress according to President Donald Trump’s hopes.”
Trump officials recently exerted pressure on Seoul to pay $5 billion a year for keeping some 28,500 American troops in South Korea, a five-fold increase on the current payment of $1 billion.
The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act for 2019 prohibits the number of troops in South Korea falling below 22,000, leaving 6,500 that could be withdrawn. “We can’t even take comfort in that, because exceptions can be made if vital American interests are at stake and the U.S. secretary of defense holds adequate discussions with an allied nation,” the “source” said.
The newspaper, which leans conservative, accused the U.S. of “extorting money from [their] long-term ally,” arguing that the current costs were already “exorbitant.”
U.S. officials demanded that the paper retract their story.
“There is absolutely no truth to the Chosun Ilbo report that the [Department of Defense] is currently considering removing any troops from the Korean Peninsula,” wrote Defense Department spokesperson Jonathan Rath Hoffman on Twitter. “Sec Esper was in South Korea this past week where he repeatedly reiterated our ironclad commitment to the ROK and its people.”
“News stories such as this expose the dangerous and irresponsible flaws of single anonymous source reporting,” he continued. “We are demanding the Chosun Ilbo immediately retract their story.”
There is absolutely no truth to the Chosun Ilbo report that the @DeptofDefense is currently considering removing any troops from the Korean Peninsula. Sec Esper was in South Korea this past week where he repeatedly reiterated our ironclad commitment to the ROK and its people.
— Jonathan Rath Hoffman (@ChiefPentSpox) November 21, 2019
The guarantee comes days after U.S. negotiators walked out of talks with their South Korean counterparts, accusing Seoul of rejecting a “fair and equitable agreement.”
“Unfortunately, the proposals that were put forward by the Korean team were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden-sharing,” said U.S. negotiator James DeHart after the negotiations broke down. “As a result, we cut short our participation in the talks today in order to give the Korean side some time to reconsider and, I hope, to put forward new proposals that would enable both sides to work towards a mutually acceptable agreement.”
Forcing countries to increase their payments for U.S. military support was one of President Donald Trump’s key campaign pledges in 2016. Since taking office, he has also pressured members of NATO, primarily Germany, to bring their defense spending up to two percent, which the organization has declared its member’s primary target.