Chang Won-sam (R), chief South Korean negotiator for defense cost talks, and his U.S. counterpart, Timothy Betts (L), sign a provisional defense cost-sharing deal during their meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul on Sunday. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
Feb. 14 (UPI) -- The issue of stationed U.S. troops in South Korea is to be treated separately from any progress made on North Korea denuclearization, according to a South Korean press report.
South Korean government officials said Thursday the status of U.S. Forces Korea, the more than 28,000 troops stationed on the peninsula, is "not related" to denuclearization talks, Newsis reported.
According to Seoul, the U.S. Department of Defense has not discussed any plans to withdraw or reduce U.S. troops in connection to potential developments that include an end-of-war declaration between Washington and Pyongyang.
The report comes after commander of U.S. Forces Korea Robert B. Abrams testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he said North Korea has not changed its military program since agreeing to end its nuclear weapons development.
The South Korean administration of President Moon Jae-in is considering a task force to address North Korea nuclear dismantlement.
Local television network JTBC reported Thursday the presidential Blue House is mulling the creation of a "Yongbyon nuclear dismantlement" task force; the goal is take the North Korean nuclear facility to an "unusable" stage, the report states.
A diplomatic source at the Blue House told JTBC the task force is being discussed as the South Korean government is sharing views on the technicalities of dismantlement with the United States.
In 2018, North Korea agreed with the South to dismantle Yongbyon, but only if the United States would engage in correlative action.
The speed of engagement has made some politicians in the South nervous, and conservatives in Seoul have raised concerns about the alliance ahead of President Donald Trump's second summit with Kim Jong Un.
On Thursday in Seoul, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry B. Harris said the alliance is stronger than ever, Newsis reported.
Harris was reportedly involved in the renegotiation of a military cost-sharing agreement, which concluded on Sunday.