HALIFAX, Canada ― America’s top commander in the Pacific doubled down on the Pentagon denials that the U.S. is considering withdrawing its troops from South Korea, if the Pacific nation does not pay more for maintaining them.
“No one has talked to me about planning to draw down troops,” Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Philip Davidson told reporters on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum on Saturday. “I don’t know of any plan to draw down troops.”
The comments followed the Pentagon saying Thursday there was “absolutely no truth” to a report in Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s biggest newspaper, that the U.S. Defense Department was “currently considering removing any troops from the Korean Peninsula.” The U.S. maintaining a 28,500-strong contingent on the peninsula to deter North Korean aggression.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, said Thursday while wrapping up his trip to the region that he does not believe there is a rift in the U.S.-South Korean alliance, despite a breakdown this week in negotiations over a U.S. demand for a five-fold increase in what Seoul pays to keep American troops on its soil.
Esper was also quoted saying there are so plans for a withdrawal. “We’re not threatening allies over this. This is a negotiation,” he told reporters during a trip to Vietnam.
The talks broke down in part as Pyongyang stepped up its pressure on Washington to make bigger concessions in its nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. The U.S. and South Korea announced Sunday they indefinitely postponed the annual Vigilant Ace aerial training as part of efforts to revive the nuclear talks, though North Korea rejected the gesture.
North Korea wants the U.S. to lift major international sanctions on it and provide security assurances before it fully abandons its nuclear arsenal. But the U.S. has maintained sanctions would stay in place until North Korea takes serious steps toward denuclearization.
On Saturday, Davidson expressed confidence in both the alliance and military-to-military relations with South Korea.
“The relationship at the mil-to-mil with the South Koreans continues to go gangbusters,” Davidson said, noting the meeting last week between senior U.S. and South Korean officials.
Davidson’s comments came a day after reported U.S. pressure on South Korea led to Seoul, at the last minute, staying in an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.