ROK-U.S. News

Kim Jong Un ‘alive and well,’ South Korean official says amid new reports North Korean leader is ill

USA TODAY  |  Deirdre Shesgreen

WASHINGTON South Korean government officials tried again to quell persistent rumors that Kim Jong Un, the authoritarian leader of North Korea, is in poor health.

On Monday, South Korea’s unification minister, Kim Yeon-chul, told a closed-door forum in Seoul the government has “enough intelligence to confidently say that there are no unusual developments” in rival North Korea to corroborate speculation about Kim’s health.

“Kim Jong Un is alive and well,” Chung-in Moon, foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told Fox News on Sunday. “He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”

North Korea is one of the world’s most secretive nations in the world and information about its repressive leader is extremely difficult to verify.

Speculation about Kim’s health began to swirl after the North Korea leader failed to attend the April 15 celebration of his grandfather’s birthday, an important national holiday that he had not previously missed since his rise to power in 2011.

Last week, a Seoul-based website called Daily NK reported that the North Korean leader had undergone heart surgery on April 12 and was recuperating at a villa outside the capital, Pyongyang. The Daily NK’s story was based on a single source inside North Korea. Other media outlets, including CNN, have reported that Kim’s health may be in “grave danger.”

The state-controlled North Korean media has been silent about Kim’s whereabouts in recent weeks. The state-run Korean Central News Agency released a photo of him, dated April 11, which it said shows Kim attending a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang. However, neither the content nor the date of the photo could be independently verified.

Media reports say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is believed to be in "grave danger" after surgery, but officials in South Korea believe otherwise.

Some media reports about North Korea and its leadership have previously turned out to be inaccurate. President Donald Trump said last week that he thought the CNN story was “inaccurate,” but he declined to comment further on what information the Trump administration has about Kim’s health status.

“I hear the report was an incorrect report. I hope it was an incorrect report,” said Trump, who has met directly with Kim in an unsuccessful effort to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.

South Korea’s unification minister did not reveal the specific intelligence behind his conclusion that Kim is not ill, but he said it was reached after a thorough analysis.

38 North, a website that tracks developments in North Korea, reported that a train likely belonging to Kim has been parked at a railway station that services the leader’s Wonsan compound since at least April 21. North38 cited commercial satellite imagery and said the approximately 250-meter long train is reserved for use by the Kim family.

“The train’s presence does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader or indicate anything about his health, but it does lend weight to reports that Kim is staying at an elite area on the country’s eastern coast,” the website said.

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard and the Associated Press


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N.K. leader sends gratitude to workers at tourist zone amid health rumors

YONHAP NEWS  |  By Yi Wonju

SEOUL, April 27 (Yonhap) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his gratitude to workers building a tourist zone in the east coast region of Wonsan, state media said Monday, amid reports his special train is parked at the area amid persisting speculation about his health.

“Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has sent his appreciation to the workers who devoted themselves to building the Wonsan-Kalma tourist zone,” the Rodong Sinmun, the North’s main newspaper, said. The Korean Central Broadcasting Station carried a similar report.

Later in the day, the state-run Korean Central News Agency also reported that Kim sent a congratulatory telegram message to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday.

“I, in the days around Freedom Day, the meaningful national holiday of the people of your country, send out heart-felt congratulations to you, the government of South Africa and the people in the name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Korean people,” the report quoted Kim as saying in the telegram.

“On this occasion, I express my confidence that the traditional friendship between the two countries would be furthered continuously,” Kim said.

The reports came amid lingering speculation about Kim’s health since he missed an important annual ceremony on April 15 commemorating the birthday of late state founder and his grandfather Kim Il-sung.

Some unconfirmed media reports have speculated that Kim could be “in grave danger” after surgery. But South Korean officials have dismissed such speculation as untrue, saying nothing unusual was going on in the North and Kim is believed to be staying in the Wonsan region.

Corroborating the intelligence was a report by the U.S. monitoring website 38 North that satellite imagery showed what appeared to be Kim’s special train parked at a station in “his Wonsan compound since at least April 21.”

“The train’s presence does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader or indicate anything about his health, but it does lend weight to reports that Kim is staying at an elite area on the country’s eastern coast,” it added.

Moon Chung-in, a special security adviser to President Moon Jae-in, also said Sunday in an interview with Fox News that Kim is “alive and well.”

Newsweek reported Saturday that the United States has seen no indications that would allow it to make a conclusive assessment on the status of the North Korean leadership or Kim’s health, citing an unidentified senior Pentagon official.

The official also said there are no signs of unusual military activity in the North, and the U.S. and its partner countries in Asia and the Western Pacific “remain at readiness levels consistent with historical norms,” according to the report.

The unification ministry on Monday reaffirmed no unusual signs have been detected in the North.

“We have nothing to confirm in regards to speculation over leader Kim Jong-un’s health. However, our stance that there is no unusual activity currently in North Korea, as announced by the National Security Council, is still in effect to this point,” Cho Hey-sil, the ministry’s deputy spokesperson, told a regular press briefing Monday.

The Wonsan-Kalma tourist zone is one of Kim’s key pet construction projects. Kim, who sent a similar thank-you message to the workers in February, has sought to develop the North’s tourism in an effort to beef up an economy faltering under international sanctions.

Kim was last seen in state media on April 11 presiding over a political bureau meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, calling for strict measures against the coronavirus.

But his absence from a key ceremony commemorating the 108th birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung on April 15 has sparked speculation over his health. He has never skipped his trip to the mausoleum since taking office in late 2011.

North Korean state media have recently put out reports on Kim sending diplomatic letters and conveying gifts to honored citizens. But no reports on the leader’s “field guidance” trips or photos on his public activities have been released by state media for more than two weeks.

This photo, carried by North Korea's state news agency on April 6, 2019, shows its leader Kim Jong-un (C) inspecting the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

This photo, carried by North Korea’s state news agency on April 6, 2019, shows its leader Kim Jong-un (C) inspecting the Wonsan-Kalma coastal tourist area. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)



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Kim Jong Un might have been injured during April 14 missile tests

The Dong-A ILBO  |

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might have been injured during the tests of short-range cruise missiles on April 14, according to a former high ranking official of Room 39, an organization run by the Workers’ Party of North Korea that maintains foreign currency of “the Kims.”

In an article he wrote for this newspaper on Saturday, Lee Jeong Ho who defected from North Korea to the United States said that missile tests such as the ones carried out on April 14 could not go ahead without the order of commander-in-chief, which suggests that Kim was well until 7 a.m. when the missiles were fired.

“Kim was absent from the reports of the tests while no footage of the missile launch and the training of combat aircrafts was released, which points to a possibility of an unexpected accident that might have been caused by debris or fire,” said Lee. His thinking is that Kim might have fallen ill shortly after the missile launch given that Rodong Sinmun or the Korean Central Broadcasting Committee cannot publish footage of missile tests without the permission of Kim.

Regarding the rumors that Kim is brain dead after having heart surgery, he said they did not seem accurate or credible. “Kim Jong Un’s doctors are all from the Bonghwa hospital in Pyongyang, and other hospitals do not have first doctors,” said Lee about the claims that Kim’s surgery was performed by first doctors from other hospitals at the Hyangsan hospital near Mount Myohayng.


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S. Korea pushing to pay wages in advance for USFK workers on forced furloughs


SEOUL, April 26 (Yonhap) — South Korea has notified the United States of its plan to pay wages in advance for its citizens who work for the U.S. Forces Korea but have been furloughed amid a deadlock in their defense cost-sharing negotiations, a government source said Sunday.

Around 4,000 employees were furloughed indefinitely starting on April 1, as Seoul and Washington have failed to bridge differences over a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that stipulates how much Seoul would pay for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong USFK.

“The South Korean government is pushing to pay wages for those workers first, and then deduct the amount from its due payment to the U.S. under the SMA framework,” the Seoul source said.

About 70 percent of their salaries could be provided if the government maximizes the country’s employment insurance program, the source said, adding the idea was conveyed to the U.S. side, and the Seoul government is waiting for its response.

According to the Labor Standard Act, employers should pay non-duty allowances to employees of at least 70 percent of their average wages when they take a leave of absence.

But this cannot be implemented if the U.S. raises an objection, as the South Korean workers are hired by the U.S. military.

South Korea has sought diverse measures to support the livelihood of the affected workers, such as extending emergency loans.

During the latest and seventh round of talks last month, South Korea proposed concluding a separate agreement to first address the wage issue, but the U.S. rejected the idea over concerns that such a move could further delay a comprehensive deal, Seoul’s top negotiator Jeong Eun-bo has said.

Uncertainty over the negotiations was renewed last week, as U.S. President Donald Trump said he had rejected Seoul’s offer regarding the SMA deal. South Korea had reportedly offered to pay at least 13 percent more than last year’s contribution.

The U.S. initially demanded a more than fivefold increase in Seoul’s contributions to US$5 billion.

The indefinite furloughs are feared to have disrupted day-to-day USFK operations and affected the allies’ combined readiness posture.

Members of a union representing South Korean employees of the U.S. Forces Korea rally at the entrance of the U.S. base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, on April 1, 2020, to demand that the United States revoke its implementation of unpaid leave for such employees. (Yonhap)

Members of a union representing South Korean employees of the U.S. Forces Korea rally at the entrance of the U.S. base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, on April 1, 2020, to demand that the United States revoke its implementation of unpaid leave for such employees. (Yonhap)


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Death of Kim Jong Un could create refugee crisis, require military response

Rumors swirling that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has fallen critically ill have sparked fears that his demise would destabilize the region and lead to a refugee crisis that would draw in the US, South Korea and possibly other allies, according to a report.

Questions about the reclusive dictator’s health flared after he missed an April 15 commemoration of the 108th birthday of his grandfather, the Hermit Kingdom’s founder Kim Il Sung.

On Wednesday, North Korean state media published some past comments by Kim without mentioning his current whereabouts — while rival South Korea repeated that no unusual developments had been detected in the North.

But even if the 36-year-old overweight despot isn’t moribund, he does have health issues and a possible end to his rule would create turmoil, experts told the Military Times.

Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un (center)Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

Although Kim has no named successor or heir apparent, his younger sister — senior ruling party official Kim Yo Jong — appears to be the most likely candidate to step in.

However, some experts believe a collective leadership, which could end the family’s dynastic rule, also could be possible.

The lack of a designated heir means there will be “chaos, human suffering, instability,” retired South Korean special operations chief Lt. Gen. Chun In-Bum told Military Times. “It’s bad news for everyone.”

David Maxwell, a retired Special Forces colonel and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, told the outlet that an American and South Korean military reaction to such an upheaval could require an effort that “will make Afghanistan and Iraq pale in comparison.”

“It is unknown whether Kim Jong Un has designated a successor,” Maxwell said. “We can speculate that perhaps his sister Kim Yo Jong has been designated as his successor based on her recent promotion and the fact she has begun making official statements in her name beginning last month.”

But it is unknown, he added, “whether a woman, despite being part of the Paektu bloodline could become the leader of the Kim family regime.”

A lack of a clear successor could lead to a regime collapse that the US and South Korea must be prepared to handle, said Maxwell, who added that military planners, including himself, have long briefed senior leaders on what could happen.

There is a “humanitarian disaster that will unfold in North Korea,” adding to the upheaval wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, Maxwell told Military Times.

“South Korea, China, and Japan (via boat) are going to have to deal with potential large scale refugee flows,” he said. “Units of the North Korean People’s Army are going to compete for resources and survival. This will lead to internal conflict among units and could escalate to widespread civil war.”

And despite such internal turmoil, North Korea’s military would continue to fight to defend the nation, he said.

“Since North Korea is a Guerrilla Dynasty built on the myth of anti-Japanese partisan warfare, we can expect large numbers of the military (1.2 million active duty and 6 million reserves) to resist any and all outside foreign intervention including from South Korea,” Maxwell told the outlet.

Complicating matters, he added, the US and South Korea would have to be prepared to secure Pyongyang’s “entire (weapons of mass destruction) program, nuclear, chemical, biological weapons and stockpiles, manufacturing facilities, and human infrastructure (scientists and technicians).”

Chun mostly backed Maxwell’s grim predictions about refugees and a possible civil war in the north, but did not see a US-South Korean military incursion past the 38th Parallel.

“What are we going to do? March in there? Let the Chinese do it,” Chun said.

“The DPRK is a sovereign country. Anyone going in there, including the Chinese, would be crazy. The ROK-US has a bad plan with bad assumptions. It will get us into a nuclear war,” he added.


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S. Korea, U.S. reaffirm efforts for ‘fair, mutually acceptable’ defense cost-sharing deal

Yonhap News  |  By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) — South Korea and the United States called Wednesday for a fair and mutually acceptable deal from their defense cost talks as the negotiations remain deadlocked since U.S. President Donald Trump rejected Seoul’s offer to increase its contribution as insufficient.

The defense cost issue was one of the agenda items for the 17th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) that the two countries held via a videoconference, along with North Korea issues and joint efforts to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting came a day after Trump said he turned down Seoul’s offer in the negotiations to work out a new cost-sharing pact, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA). The South had reportedly offered to increase its share by 13 percent from last year.

“The two sides jointly assessed joint efforts made so far for the conclusion of the 11th SMA, and stressed that the deal should be clinched at a fair and mutually agreeable level so as to continue to strengthen the alliance and a joint readiness posture,” Seoul’s defense ministry said in a release.

The U.S. initially demanded a more than fivefold increase in Seoul’s contributions to US$5 billion.

Absent an agreement, the U.S. put around 4,000 South Koreans working for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on indefinite furloughs starting on April 1.

Also on the table during Wednesday’s dialogue was the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the ministry.

Heino Klinck, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, who led the U.S. delegation, praised South Korea’s response to the coronavirus situation, saying its active leadership has been a model for the world.

The U.S. also expressed gratitude for Seoul’s support for the USFK population, according to the ministry.

Speaking of the security situation on the peninsula, Seoul and Washington vowed continued close coordination to assess North Korea’s movements and to achieve the complete denuclearization of the North.

The communist country has sought to beef up its defense capabilities and conducted a series of major weapons tests amid stalled denuclearization talks with Washington. In the latest muscle-flexing maneuver, Pyongyang launched what appeared to be cruise missiles off its east coast and air-to-ground missiles from fighter jets into the East Sea last week.

Over the past week, the health of leader Kim Jong-un has been an issue amid mounting speculation that he may be seriously ill.

“In particular, the two sides agreed to explore ways to enhance the allies’ deterrence posture through the Deterrence Strategy Committee consultations,” the ministry said.

The Pentagon also released a joint press statement, saying that Seoul and Washington reaffirmed that KIDD continues to play a “critical role” in coordinating defense policies between the allies.

“They also pledged to continue close communication and cooperation to maintain and strengthen the combined readiness posture of the ROK-U.S. alliance, which serves as the linchpin of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region,” it added.

ROK stands for South Korea’s official name, Republic of Korea.

Launched in 2011, KIDD is a comprehensive defense meeting between the two sides that integrates a set of consultative mechanisms, such as the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee and the Security Policy Initiative.

In this file photo, taken on Sept. 26, 2019, South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-hwan (L) and Heino Klinck, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, pose for a photo as they hold the 16th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue at the defense ministry in Seoul to discuss regional security and other pending alliance issues. (Yonhap)

In this file photo, taken on Sept. 26, 2019, South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-hwan (L) and Heino Klinck, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, pose for a photo as they hold the 16th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue at the defense ministry in Seoul to discuss regional security and other pending alliance issues. (Yonhap)

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Trump Admits Rejecting Korea’s Defense Cost-Sharing Offer

Chosun  |  By Cho Yi-jun, Kim Jin-myung

U.S. President Donald Trump has admitted turning down Korea’s latest and probably best offer to share the upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea.

“They’ve offered us a certain amount of money and I’ve rejected it,” Trump said Monday. “We’re asking them to pay for a big percentage of what we’re doing.”

Reuters reported on April 10 that Korea had offered a 13 percent increase from the last agreement to W1.17 trillion this year, countering Trump’s exorbitant demand of US$5 billion (US$1=W1,231).

Donald Trump /AFP-Yonhap

Trump boasted in a press briefing that he was holding out for a better deal. “I just said it’s just, look, you know, we’re doing a tremendous service,” he said. “We have a wonderful feeling and a wonderful relationship with each other, but we have to be treated equitably and fairly.”

“We think that, before I came aboard, they paid very little if anything,” he added, falsely.

Trump’s mastery of briefs was on proud display in other ways on Monday. “We have 32,000 soldiers there… We’re paying for the military… to defend another nation that’s 8,500 miles away,” he said. “We’ve been defending them for many, many decades.”

The actual number is 28,500.

“South Korea is a very wealthy nation. They make our television sets. They make ships. They make everything,” he informed his audience.

Calling President Moon Jae-in “a friend of mine,” Trump said he congratulated Moon on his “wonderful election victory,” and added, “I was very happy about that.”

But Korea signaled that the negotiations are going to be protracted. Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said Seoul “has maintained a principle of fair burden sharing at a reasonable level, and is holding fast to it.”


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Top U.S. military official assumes N.K. leader still in control of armed forces

Yonhap News  |  By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, April 22 (Yonhap) — A top U.S. military official said Wednesday he assumes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is still in full control of his country’s armed forces despite reports he may be seriously ill.

“I can tell you that in the intel, I don’t have anything to confirm or deny anything along those lines, so I assume that Kim Jong-un is still in full control of the Korean nuclear forces and the Korean military forces,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten said during a press briefing. “I have no reason not to assume that.”

This AFP file photo shows U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten. (Yonhap)

This AFP file photo shows U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. John Hyten. (Yonhap)

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Still no unusual signs in N. Korea: Cheong Wa Dae

YONHAP News  |

SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) — Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday it has not seen any unusual indications in North Korea that may suggest its leader Kim Jong-un’s reported serious health problem.

“There has been no unusual activity” in the secretive communist neighbor in connection with news reports that Kim is critically ill, a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on the customary condition of anonymity.

He would not comment on Kim’s whereabouts and whether he underwent a heart surgery.

Kim has not engaged in any public activity since April 11. He missed a key national ceremony to commemorate the 108th birth anniversary of his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il-sung, sparking speculation that he might have been hospitalized.

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[Exclusive] The US and USFK are reviewing four scenarios including reduction  |  Lee Jung-eun

Defense Negotiation Deadlock Press Card

Photo Source USFK Facebook

It is reported that the US administration of Donald Trump is considering a step-by-step reduction of the USFK in negotiations with the US-ROK Defense Special Provisions Agreement (SMA). It seems that Trump has rejected a tentative agreement recently drawn up by the US-Korea bilateral negotiating team, and the United States seems to be preparing a strong pressure card called “Reducing US Forces in Korea.”

According to a diplomatic report on the 17th (local time), the Trump administration has prepared four scenarios that contain measures to reduce the USFK and is reviewing them internally. The first plan was to continue negotiations while maintaining the USFK at the current scale, and the other three were known to contain measures to reduce USFK by size. Although the scale of the reduction in specific stages is unknown, it seems that it will include the suspension of the deployment of 6,000 to 6,500 armored brigades in 9 months. “I know everything from the best to the worst scenarios is included in the review,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The review of the four scenarios began after President Trump rejected a tentative agreement by the US-ROK working-level negotiating team late last month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported. Reuters reported that South Korea has proposed a 13% increase in contributions, but President Trump has rejected it because of the issue. As the final settlement of the negotiations was canceled, more than 4,000 Korean workers in the USFK base have been on unpaid leave since the 1st.

The impact on future SMA negotiations is noteworthy as the US administration is reported to have entered into an internal review of four scenarios related to USFK reductions in the context of a stalemate in the SMA negotiations.

It is not the first time the US has mentioned or suggested the possibility of USFK reductions in relation to the SMA negotiations. In the second half of last year, when fierce negotiations were held between the ROK-US bilateral working-level negotiating teams, Defense Minister Mark Esper and Chairman Mark Millie, as well as President Trump, pressured South Korea, saying, “We can discuss” the USFK reduction questions. Accordingly, as the criticism of “can crack the US-ROK alliance” increased, the issue of the USFK sank below the surface.

As the United States retakes the USFK reduction card, the pressure and water level are likely to be higher than before.

It is known that the South Korean negotiator Eun-Bo Jung and the US representative James D. Hart of the Defense Defense Contribution Negotiate agreed to a provisional negotiation with a 13% increase in South Korea’s contribution and a five-year period. According to the analysis, the total amount over the past five years is more than 5 billion dollars, and there are aspects that meet the requirements of President Trump.

However, according to a recent Reuters report, President Trump, who had received reports from Secretary Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, rejected the issue because of the annual total. As it is not easy to convince the final decision maker, there are observations that the United States can demand that the negotiations be repeated. It is also possible that President Trump, who was hit by the economic performance in the aftermath of the Corona 19, will re-negotiate to make SMA a diplomatic achievement in the year-end presidential election.

In this situation, the most powerful and direct card to pressure Korea is the USFK reduction. The pressure on Korea was also largely due to the fact that on April 1st, the unpaid leave for about 4,000 Korean military personnel in the USFK base was tolerated while taking into account the difficulties of operating the base.


Unmanned Reconnaissance ‘Global Hawk’ 2nd Arrive… Korea is not open to the public . The high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, the Global Hawk (RQ-4) # 2, has been placed in a hangar in Korea. US Ambassador to Korea Harry Harris posted the photo on Twitter on the 19th and wrote, “It is a very good day for the US-ROK-like alliance.” It was also pointed out that the Korean military was not aware of North Korea because it did not announce the arrival of Global Hawk. U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris Twitter Capture

However, Trump administration officials are also cautious about the USFK reduction. This is because it is more necessary than ever to manage the alliance of the United States, considering not only the defense against threats from North Korea, but also the conflict between the United States and China in Northeast Asia. There is also a strong negative current in reducing the number of US troops stationed in the world’s largest camp Humphreys base.

An official from the Trump administration said, “The story of the USFK reductions has been around dozens of times so far, but hasn’t it actually been implemented?” This means that the first three scenarios, “ Continue to negotiate while maintaining the U.S. Forces Korea, ” and the reduction measures by size, can be used to stop the three other scenarios. Some think-tank experts say that it is better to resume negotiations after the US presidential election after hearing the urgency of Corona 19 response.

In answering the Dong-A Ilbo’s inquiry related to the USFK reduction review, the State Department did not answer “There is nothing more to say.”

Washington = Lee Jeong-eun, correspondent to



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