United States president Donald Trump has historically boasted about his ability to make deals, having published a book called ‘The Art of The Deal’ prior to his running for the top position in American politics. However, some have speculated that a recent soundbite captured from the incumbent president may jeopardise any leverage he had with North Korea in the lead up to potential talks between the two nuclear superpowers.
On Wednesday evening, at a Missouri fundraising event, an audio clip of Trump was obtained by the press which indicated an intention to withdraw US troops from the South Korea/North Korea border. Trump’s words seemed to imply that the US should only protect South Korea if the relationship is economically beneficial to the US.
Donald Trump was heard saying that the US had a “trade deficit” with South Korea and that despite this the US continued to “protect them”. He told the fundraiser crowd that the US was losing money on “trade” and “the military” whilst having “32,000 soldiers” protecting the border.
This news is likely very pleasing to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, who will go into any negotiations with Trump knowing that the US/South Korea relationship is hanging in the balance. This revelation, amongst others, has informed the widely held opinion that Trump is unprepared for any serious talks with North Korea.
Many have speculated that Trump will jeopardise relations with South Korea or potentially induce nuclear war between the USA and North Korea. Naturally, much of the American public and its allies are cautious of Trump’s negotiating ability with such high stakes.
The United States military presence in South Korea has been the foundation of much of the USA’s relationship with Seoul. It’s certainly true that North Korea detests the presence of American soldiers so close to the border and would likely accept the withdrawal of US troops as part of a broader deal with Trump.
This soundbite from Trump show’s his hand prior to any talks, giving Kim Jong Un far more leverage in an eventual deal. However, this is not the first time Trump has been caught threatening a withdrawal from South Korea.
This contrasts with his taking credit for renewed contact between North and South Korea in the lead up to the recent Winter Olympics.
Trump’s messaging throughout his election campaign included a determination to cease unnecessary spending, seeing the defence of South Korea has a burden on the American military. While the presidency has likely coloured and changed some of Trump’s views, it’s clear that the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea is still on the table.