S. Korean leader: Kim won’t seek US troop withdrawal


Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday that his rival, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, isn’t asking for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula as a precondition for abandoning his nuclear weapons. If true, this would seem to remove a major sticking point to a potential nuclear disarmament deal.

North Korea, a small, authoritarian nation surrounded by bigger and richer neighbors, has always linked its pursuit of nuclear weapons to what it calls a “hostile” U.S. policy that is embodied by the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, the 50,000 stationed in Japan, and the “nuclear umbrella” security guarantee that Washington offers allies Seoul and Tokyo.

Although Moon reported that North Korea isn’t asking for the U.S. troops to leave, he said the North still wants the United States to end its “hostile” policy and offer security guarantees. When North Korea has previously talked about “hostility,” it has been linked to the U.S. troops in South Korea.

It won’t be until Moon and Kim meet next week, and then when Kim is to meet U.S. President Donald Trump sometime in May or June, that outsiders might know just what North Korea intends. Until then, caution is needed over the statements the various leaders are using to set up their high-stakes negotiations.

Moon and Kim’s summit on April 27 will be only the third such meeting between the countries’ leaders. Moon, a liberal who is committed to engaging the North despite being forced to take a hard line in the face of repeated North Korean weapons tests last year, is eager to make the summit a success and pave the way for Kim and Trump to settle the deep differences they have over the North’s decades-long pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Many analysts believe that Kim sees the meeting with Trump as a way to bestow legitimacy on his own leadership and on a rogue nuclear program that he has built in the face of international criticism and crippling sanctions.

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