WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump has ruled out reducing the strength of US forces in South Korea as part of a deal in his upcoming summit with North Korea.
"No, it's not. That is not one of the things on the table," Mr Trump said last Friday when asked if he would consider pulling out some of the 28,500 troops from South Korea.
Mr Trump, answering questions as he held a meeting at the White House with a senior Chinese official, said he would not reveal his bargaining cards ahead of this week's summit in Hanoi.
Pressed on what he would offer, Mr Trump quipped: "Everything is on the table."
Mr Trump again hailed his relations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he met in June in Singapore in the first-ever summit between leaders of the two countries.
The US leader will face pressure to produce more concrete results when they meet over two days at their second summit.
The businessman turned President has long mused about withdrawing US troops from allied countries, seeing them as an expense shouldered by the United States for countries that are often commercial competitors.
Heightening speculation that the troop issue could be on the table, the US and South Korea have been struggling to finalise a new arrangement on how much Seoul will pay for the US military presence, with the Trump administration pressing for more.
North Korea has never formally ended the 1950-1953 war with its neighbour and officially is seeking reunification with the South.
But any bid to remove American troops from South Korea would face strong pushback from the US Congress and Japan, whose conservative government is deeply wary of North Korea's intentions.
Also, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has shown little interest in booting out US troops, in contrast with some predecessors who shared his left-of-centre ideology.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump's national security adviser John Bolton has cancelled plans to travel to South Korea ahead of this week's summit, Mr Bolton's spokesman Garrett Marquis said.