Esper refuses to speculate on U.S. troops withdrawal from S. Korea

Jay Yim, Nov. 19, 2019, 10:28 a.m.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper refused to speculate when asked Tuesday whether the U.S. would consider withdrawing troops from South Korea short of a deal on defense cost-sharing, according to news reports.

Esper was asked the question during a briefing with reporters in Manila, the Philippines, after the U.S. walked out of defense cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea in Seoul.

The U.S. is reportedly seeking an increase of Seoul's contribution to $5 billion from the current $870 million for this year to support the upkeep of 28,500 American troops stationed in the Asian ally.

"I'm not going to prognosticate or speculate on what we may or may not do," Esper said, according to Bloomberg. "The State Department has the lead in these discussions, and I'm sure they are in capable hands. We just take this one step at a time."

Citing earlier comments he made on a trip to Seoul last week, Esper also said South Korea is a wealthy country that "can and should contribute more," according to footage provided by the Associated Press.

On North Korea, the Pentagon chief maintained that the allies remain ready to respond to any provocation. Just days earlier, the South and the U.S. announced they were postponing combined military exercises to support diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the regime.

"My challenge is to make sure that ... we maintain the highest state of readiness so we're prepared to deter North Korean bad behavior," Esper said in the footage. "And if that fails we're prepared to fight tonight. And I'm fully confident that we're prepared to do both right now and we'll be able to do so in the future."

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