South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday dismissed claims that US troops stationed in the nation would have to leave if a peace treaty was signed with North Korea.
Seoul and Pyongyang have remained technically at war since the 1953, but Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed at a landmark summit on Friday last week to work toward a permanent treaty to replace a 65-year-old armistice agreement.
“US Forces Korea is a matter of the South Korea-US alliance. It has nothing to do with signing a peace treaty,” Moon said, referring to the agreement that sees 28,500 US forces based in the nation.
Moon’s comments came after a presidential adviser publicly suggested the presence of US troops would be called into question if a peace treaty were to be agreed with Pyongyang.
Moon Chung-in had written in Foreign Affairs magazine that it would be “difficult to justify [US forces] continuing presence in South Korea” after the adoption of a peace treaty.
The Blue House has warned the adviser “not to cause any more confusion” with such comments, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.
The rebuttal came as the South Korean Ministry of National Defense confirmed that several US fighter jets had arrived in the nation to take part in a regular joint exercises.
The F-22 “Raptor” stealth jets last visited South Korea in December last year when Seoul and Washington staged their largest-ever joint air exercise, days after North Korea test-fired a missile believed to be capable of hitting the US mainland.
Local media reported eight F-22 jets had arrived on Sunday at an airbase in the southern city of Gwangju.
North Korea customarily reacts with anger to the deployment of US stealth fighters, which it fears could be used for surgical strikes against its leadership and strategic facilities.
However, Kim Jong-un has shown a more conciliatory attitude, telling Seoul envoy Chung Eui-yong in March that he understood the need for the US-South Korea joint exercises.
The “Max Thunder” drill is set to begin on Friday next week and lasts for two weeks, with the reported participation of 100 aircraft from both nations.
The ministry urged news media to refrain from producing “speculative reports” about the move.
That request came after the Chosun Ilbo claimed that the aircraft deployment could be intended to heap pressure on Pyongyang ahead of a planned summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.
“Max Thunder is a regular exercise that has been on the docket long before a planned US-North Korea summit,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Panmunjom truce village in the demilitarized zone between the North and South, where last week’s inter-Korean summit was convened, has emerged as a possible venue for the Kim-Trump meeting.
The Chosun Ilbo suggested the arrival of the F-22 jets could also be aimed at bolstering security in case the North Korea-US summit takes place at Panmunjom.
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