Washington – The Pentagon has presented the White House with options to reduce the U.S. military presence in South Korea as the two countries remain at odds over the costs of stationing American troops in the Asian nation, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
While no decision has been made to cut the current level of about 28,500 troops in the country, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff has reviewed the structure of U.S. forces in South Korea as part of a broader re-examination of how to reposition and potentially reduce military deployments worldwide, the newspaper said, citing U.S. officials.
The report came as President Donald Trump has decided to remove thousands of U.S. troops from Germany, criticizing what he sees as the country’s failure to pay its fair share of defense costs in the NATO alliance.
Trump has advocated the need for allies, such as South Korea and Japan, to pay more of the costs associated with hosting U.S. troops. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said he would consider removing troops from the two countries unless they boosted their contributions.
But such a stance has apparently complicated negotiations over a new cost-sharing agreement between Washington and Seoul. They have yet to conclude the talks even after the previous agreement expired at the end of last year.
While expecting allies to pay more for the U.S. troops, Trump has continued to question the rationale for overseas deployments and has “made it clear he wants options,” one of his administration officials was quoted as saying.
The White House asked the Department of Defense last fall to provide preliminary options for withdrawing troops from around the world, including in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia.
The Pentagon had come up with broad ideas by December and in March refined a number of options and presented them to the White House, including some for South Korea, according to the newspaper.
Japan is apparently closely watching the development of the talks between the United States and South Korea on the issue, as Tokyo is expected to start its own negotiations with Washington later this year.
Under the Japan-U.S. security treaty, about 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan, enabling the United States to respond rapidly to contingencies in the Asia-Pacific region.
The region includes the Korean Peninsula, which has been divided due to the 1950-1953 Korean War ending in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty. The United States, which fought alongside South Korea, remains technically in a state of war with North Korea.