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Military vets-turned-lawmakers say US forces should remain on Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in as Kim crossed the border into South Korea. (Korea Broadcasting System/AP)

Two congressman from different corners of the country and the political aisle warned Tuesday that it would be a mistake to remove U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula.

Reps. Steve Russell, R-Okla., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., military veterans and members of a key House panel focused on defense issues, also said while they are skeptical of the motivations driving North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, they believe a summit slated between the regime leader and President Donald Trump should go forward.

Russell and Lieu are members of the House Armed Services Committee and made the comments during a wide-ranging discussion at the United States Institute of Peace, a federally funded, nonpartisan think tank.

“You want the United States on the peninsula… you don’t want instability in this region, you want stability,” said Russell, who served as an Army lieutenant colonel for 21 years. “If you remove the United States that is not going to make it more secure, more stable. In fact, it will be just the opposite.”

The lawmakers issued their warning after a series of media reports suggesting Trump aims to remove troops from Korea.

This month, Trump said an offer to remove or reduce the number of the troops would not on the table for the June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore. However, the president said he would like to “save the money” in the future by removing the 30,000 U.S. troops from the peninsula.

“It’d be a bad idea for us to withdraw our troop presence from South Korea,” said Lieu, a fierce Trump critic who served in the Air Force for four years as a military prosecutor and later in the reserves.

Russell and Lieu agreed they support a meeting between Trump and Kim, though the June 12 summit was thrown into question last week when North Korea issued statements condemning U.S.-South Korea joint military drills. Both congressmen said Kim cannot be trusted.

“The problem that we have with North Korea is a 25-year track record of breaking promises,” Lieu said.

“I still don’t know what he is going to choose to do and that’s what is so scary about it,” Russell said. “We’ve not conceded or given large amounts of treasure …we’ve not done anything but taken a hard line and this is something that dictators understand.”

Lieu said a lack of U.S. intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear weapons means the talks and negotiations are surrounded by uncertainty.

“We don’t know how many nuclear weapons [North Korea has] or where they are all located because the regime hides them,” he said. “I hope the summit happens. But we have these troubling statements from North Korea recently and it is part of a pattern of behavior we have seen in the past. So we really don’t know what will happen June 12.”


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