KEY WEST, Fla. — North Korea has dropped its demand that U.S. troops be removed from South Korea as a condition for giving up its nuclear weapons, South Korea’s president said Thursday in presenting the idea to the U.S.
President Moon Jae-in portrayed the proposal as a concession on the eve of talks involving the two Koreas and the United States. The North has long demanded that the 28,500 U.S. troops be withdrawn, citing their presence as a pretext to justify its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
But in Washington, the Trump administration privately dismissed the idea it was a capitulation by the North because a U.S. withdrawal from the South was never on the table. Mike Pompeo, the CIA director whom President Donald Trump secretly sent to Pyongyang two weeks ago to meet Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, did not ask him to take such a step, senior officials said.
The move could increase pressure on the United States to support negotiations between North and South Korea on a peace treaty that would end the Korean War. While Trump gave those talks his blessing this week, officials said his ultimate goal is to force North Korea to relinquish its nuclear program. A peace treaty, they said, should be signed only after the North has given up its weapons.
Trump has expressed excitement about his own planned summit meeting with Kim, but on Wednesday, he said he was ready to bail out before, or even during, the meeting if he concluded that diplomacy was not bearing fruit. He also said the U.S. would keep sanctions on North Korea until it relinquishes its nuclear program.
“We have great respect for many aspects of what they’re doing, but we have to get it together,” Trump said at a news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. “We have to end nuclear weapons.”
Analysts and former officials said the White House was right to be wary of Kim’s offer. They said it could drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea.
Kim is set to meet Moon next week and Trump in late May or early June.