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Trump orders Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down troops in South Korea, report says

President Donald Trump speaks to the press while walking to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Dec. 15, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

President Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down U.S. troops in South Korea as he prepares for a summit with the North Korean leader in coming weeks, the New York Times reported.

The North has long demanded the withdrawal of America’s military from the divided peninsula, but Thursday’s report said reduced troop levels are not intended to be a bargaining chip in nuclear talks.

Washington is also is in the middle of tough talks with Seoul over how to share the cost of maintaining some 28,500 U.S. servicemembers in South Korea as the agreement expires at the end of the year.

The New York Times cited several people briefed on the deliberations. Officials declined to say whether Trump was seeking options for a full or partial reduction, according to the newspaper.

South Korea’s presidential office said Friday that a U.S. National Security Council official had dismissed the report as false.

The NSC official gave the reassurance to South Korea’s visiting top security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, who is in Washington for talks on the upcoming U.S.-North Korean summit, according to a statement from the presidential office.

The U.S. military presence in South Korea — considered a “tripwire” against North Korean aggression — has been the cornerstone of the alliance between the two countries since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

But the rapidly evolving peace process has raised questions over whether U.S. troops would be needed if a formal peace is achieved.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in rejected the idea on Wednesday.

“U.S. Forces Korea is a matter regarding the U.S.-South Korean alliance. It has nothing to do with signing peace treaties,” spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom quoted Moon as saying.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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