Trump’s troop pull­out in Syria un­likely to lead to USFK dis­ar­ray

The Korea Times - - NATIONAL - By Jung Da-min [email protected]­re­atimes.co.kr

Wash­ing­ton is im­ple­ment­ing a full mil­i­tary with­drawal from north­ern Syria amid cries of “be­trayal” from its Kur­dish “al­lies” and even signs that the in­va­sion there by Tur­key could fuel a broader war.

The de­ci­sion has also raised de­bate in South Korea that U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump could “mis­treat” Seoul in a sim­i­lar fash­ion and po­ten­tially lose one of the U.S.’ long stand­ing al­lies in Asia, ac­cord­ing to mil­i­tary sources, Mon­day.

Other sources noted it was un­likely that Wash­ing­ton and Seoul will be­gin dis­cus­sions any­time soon on a pos­si­ble time­line for the re­moval of any of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), as the two share “com­mon se­cu­rity ob­jec­tives” in North­east Asia.

But they said the is­sue could be touched upon depend­ing on the level of progress of talks aimed at dis­man­tling North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram, as Trump re­gards the USFK as a “bar­gain­ing chip” in the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion dia­logue.

Also, Trump is said to have de­manded that Korea in­crease its cost-shar­ing for U.S. troops sta­tioned here to about $5 bil­lion a year by in­clud­ing fund­ing for the de­ploy­ment of bombers and other strate­gic as­sets dur­ing ex­er­cises.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said Wash­ing­ton is com­mit­ted to deal­ing with se­cu­rity chal­lenges around the world while pro­tect­ing re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, dur­ing an in­ter­view with U.S. broad­caster WZTV, late last week.

In an ap­par­ent move to down­play the sig­nif­i­cance of the de­ci­sion on Syria, Pom­peo said the U.S. has built “a coali­tion all across the world” to de­nu­cle­arize North Korea, and this has se­cured “unan­i­mous sup­port at the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil,” which was ev­i­dence of such ef­forts.

From South Korea’s per­spec­tive, as work­ing-level talks be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang held in Stock­holm, Oct. 5, ended with­out sub­stan­tial re­sults, ex­perts said it is un­likely the U.S. will de­crease its “ex­tended de­ter­rence” for the South in the near fu­ture.

Kim Hyun-wook, a pro­fes­sor at the Korea Na­tional Diplo­matic Academy’s De­part­ment of Amer­i­can Stud­ies, told The Korea Times that a re­duc­tion in the USFK was “not an ideal bar­gain­ing chip for the U.S. at this point.”

He added, “The U.S. could bring up this is­sue only if it makes sig­nif­i­cant progress in the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of North Korea.”

Kim said there are con­cerns, es­pe­cially among Korean con­ser­va­tives, that Trump’s un­pre­dictabil­ity could re­sult in a prom­ise to North Korea to with­draw or re­duce the USFK.

How­ever, Trump would have to deal with a strong back­lash from U.S. law­mak­ers who op­pose any re­duc­tion in the coun­try’s ex­tended de­ter­rence, Kim said. This would come on top of the risk of im­peach­ment trump is fac­ing for ask­ing Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky to in­ves­ti­gate for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and his son.

U.S. Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for North Korea Stephen Biegun com­mented that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would give it­self “a lot more op­tions,” to ad­dress the North Korea nu­clear threat.

Yoon Sang-hyun, chief of the Na­tional As­sem­bly For­eign Af­fairs and Uni­fi­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, also said Wash­ing­ton was not go­ing to use the with­drawal of USFK troops as “a bar­gain­ing chip” in work­ing-level talks with Py­ongyang. But he added there was the pos­si­bil­ity it could be brought up as the nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions de­velop.

Kim Geun-sik, a pro­fes­sor at Kyung­nam Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute for Far Eastern Stud­ies, said the idea of scal­ing back the USFK could also have been raised by the Moon Jae-in ad­min­is­tra­tion as it pushed for­ward with the Pres­i­dent’s peace process ini­tia­tive for the Korean Penin­sula.

“South Korea is su­pe­rior to North Korea in terms of con­ven­tional forces, while the North is su­pe­rior to the South in nu­clear power,” Kim said. “Re­duc­ing the num­ber of USFK troops could bring for­ward risk to Seoul’s se­cu­rity.”

Park Won-gon, an in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions pro­fes­sor at Han­dong Global Univer­sity, said it is likely the Moon ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing a re­duc­tion in the USFK if Wash­ing­ton raises the is­sue first.

“It would be nat­u­ral that any changes to the role of USFK would be on the agenda dur­ing dis­cus­sions on the peace process the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion is push­ing,” Park said.

KCTV-Yonhap

This Oct. 4 photo, re­leased by North Korea’s state-run Korean Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion shows North Korean res­i­dents read­ing the coun­try’s rul­ing Work­ers’ Party of Korea news­pa­per Rodong Sin­mun Oct. 3 edi­tion which high­lighted the North’s test launch of its new Pukguk­song-3 sub­ma­rine-launched bal­lis­tic mis­sile off the coast of Wongsan, Kang­won Prov­ince, the day be­fore.

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