By Riyaz ul Khaliq
South Korea said Thursday if peace is reached with North Korea, the deployment of U.S. troops in Seoul will not affect progress made with Pyongyang on denuclearization.
The statement for Seoul came after chief of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Gen. Robert Abrams said the American troops will stay in South Korea “until a peace treaty is concluded with North Korea,” according to The Chosunilbo.
“Until there is a peace treaty, because we still remain in a state of armistice, a cessation of hostilities, until such time that there is a peace treaty between all of the parties,” Abrams told the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.
Korean news agency, Yonhap, however, said the U.S. Department of Defense “reaffirmed that the issue of the American troop presence in South Korea is not directly related to denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang”.
“It delivered the message recently to Seoul's Ministry of National Defense amid a controversy over U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) chief Gen. Robert Abrams' remarks,” the news agency said.
It reported Seoul’s concerns about the future of the USFK in the event of denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism to replace the Armistice Agreement.
“[The Pentagon] has said that the USFK issue has no relation to the denuclearization dialogue,” Yonhap quoted a Seoul official.
Seoul maintains the presence of USFK is an “alliance matter” to be decided by separate dialogue between Seoul and Washington.
“It also said that there have been no discussions or any plan about the USFK withdrawal or any troop curtailment in connection with the signing of a peace treaty,” the official added.
U.S. president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are slated to meet for second summit in Vietnam Feb. 27 - 28 where the American will push for denuclearization of Korean peninsula while Pyongyang will seek lifting of sanctions.