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(LEAD) President Moon dismisses possible withdrawal of USFK

All Headlines 10:25 May 02, 2018

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead paras; UPDATES with remarks from President Moon; RESTRUCTURES)

SEOUL, May 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in flatly dismissed the idea of U.S. troops stationed here pulling out following a formal end to the Korean War, saying the issue has nothing to do with North Korea but only with the Korea-U.S. alliance.

"U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is a matter of the South Korea-U.S. alliance. It has nothing to do with signing a peace treaty," the president said, according to his spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.

In a historic summit held at the border truce village of Panmunjom on Friday, Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to push for a peace treaty that would formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

Moon's remarks came shortly after his special adviser Moon Chung-in hinted at the possibility of a withdrawal.

"What will happen to U.S. forces in South Korea if a peace treaty is signed? It will be difficult to justify their continuing presence in South Korea after its adoption," the former Yonsei University professor said in a contributed articled published Monday by U.S. magazine Foreign Affairs.

An official from the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae earlier dismissed the possibility, highlighting the role of USFK as a mediator.

"The government's position is that the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is playing the role of a mediator between major powers surrounding the country, such as China and Japan. It is the government's stance that the USFK is needed," the Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters, while speaking on condition of anonymity.

Washington has maintained American soldiers in South Korea since the end of the Korean War, which ended only with an armistice, leaving the two Koreas technically at war. Currently, some 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed here.

The Cheong Wa Dae official noted Moon may have been doing his job as an adviser but said there was no guarantee his opinions or advice will be picked up by the president or his government.

"Special adviser Moon is an adviser on one hand, but on the other hand, he is a professor who enjoys the freedom of thoughts, freedom of speech. The president appointed him as a special adviser to benefit from such ample political imagination in setting the direction of his policies," the official said.

Still, Cheong Wa Dae chief of staff Im Jong-seok has sought to put a gag on the special adviser.

"In addition, Chief of Staff Im has called special adviser Moon just now to relay the president's remarks and ask him not to cause any more confusion," the Cheong Wa Dae spokesman told a press briefing.

Pyongyang had long demanded the withdrawal of U.S. troops in South Korea, accusing them of being an advance team of what it claimed to be an eventual and imminent U.S. invasion of North Korea.

However, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not even bring up the issue when he met the South Korean president last week for a historic summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, according to Cheong Wa Dae officials.

His father Kim Jong-il also told a visiting former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 that Pyongyang will not oppose the USFK's stationing in the South even after the peace treaty is signed.

Kim has also offered an apparent consent to joint military exercises of South Korean and U.S. forces here when he met Moon's top security adviser Chung Eui-yong in Pyongyang ahead of the inter-Korean summit, saying he understood Seoul's need to resume the joint military drills, which were briefly suspended in a move to encourage North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympic Games held in PyeongChang, South Korea.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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