A presidential aide said Wednesday that U.S. troops will continue to be stationed in South Korea even if a peace treaty is signed to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.
The ranking official flatly dismissed the possibility of a withdrawal floated by a special security adviser to President Moon Jae-in.
"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.
The remarks came shortly after Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to the president for unification, foreign affairs and national security, insisted the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea would no longer be justified should the Koreas formally end the Korean War.
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.
"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.
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.
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. (Yonhap)