The United States will continue to maintain its troops in South Korea despite the recent suspension of their joint military drills with South Korean forces, South Korean president Moon Jae-in said.
"South Korea and the U.S. maintain a firm stance about the role and importance of U.S. Forces Korea for peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia," the South Korean president said in an interview with Singapore's Straits Times, published Thursday.
The written interview was given last week, Seoul's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said earlier, ahead of Moon's three-day state visit to Singapore, which began Wednesday.
Seoul and Washington have temporarily suspended their joint military exercises following their leaders' historic meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Moon and Kim held two inter-Korean summits on April 27 and May 26, which were followed by a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim right here in Singapore on June 12.
Moon said the temporary suspension of the military drills was aimed at fostering an environment for continued dialogue with the North, which has agreed to completely denuclearize.
"Right now, a globally unprecedented transition is taking place on the Korean Peninsula. The course of history has begun to shift from war to peace. It is especially important that South Korea, North Korea and the U.S. together took the first step," the president said, according to a script of the interview released by Cheong Wa Dae.
"South Korea and the U.S. have positively evaluated the recent change in North Korea's attitude. Therefore, (the countries) have agreed on the need to consider North Korea's interest and decided to suspend the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercise as long as dialogue continues," he added.
The president, however, dismissed the possibility of the suspension of military drills leading to the withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed in his country.
"USFK is a completely different issue. It is a matter of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, not something that can be discussed in denuclearization talks between North Korea and the U.S.," he said.
The president also insisted the U.S. has no plans to reduce or terminate its military presence in South Korea either.
Moon said his country will continue to seek to formally end the Korean War before the year's end.
This requires sincere efforts on both sides to implement what they have agreed, the president noted.
"The key is the implementation of the agreement between the leaders. To reach our goal of complete denuclearization as agreed by the leaders of South Korea, North Korea and the U.S and reach permanent peace, we must come up with a detailed implementation plan and put it to action," Moon said.
"This means North Korea will come up with more detailed denuclearization steps while South Korea and the U.S. will swiftly take corresponding and comprehensive measures."
Moon asked for Singapore's continued support for dialogue with North Korea and offered his gratitude for its hosting the first U.S.-North Korea summit.
"I believe the reason North Korea and the U.S. picked Singapore as the venue for their historic first summit is because they both have faith in Singapore," he said. "I wish we will continue to see Singapore's constructive role in the future."
He also vowed efforts to improve his country's bilateral relationship with Singapore, which is currently serving as the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Under his so-called New Southern Policy, the South Korean president has vowed to upgrade his country's relationship with India and ASEAN countries to the level of its strongest ally, the U.S., and other global powers, such as Japan, China and Russia.
"South Korea and ASEAN are the best partners who can jointly open a new future of peace, coexistence and prosperity," Moon said.
"I hope my visit this time may serve as a chance to not only develop the South Korea-Singapore relationship but also lead the joint efforts of South Korea and ASEAN in building a joint community of peace," the president added.
The South Korean president is set to hold a bilateral summit later in the day with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He will return home on Friday. (yonhap)