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South Korea Says Trump Will Seek Its Consent for Any Strike on North

The contradictory messages added to the uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration’s approach to North Korea, at a time when America’s allies in East Asia are already nervous about its commitment to defend them, should Pyongyang acquire the ability to strike United States cities. Japan’s defense and foreign ministers were expected to seek assurances in meetings on Thursday in Washington.

In South Korea, Mr. Moon sought to dispel fears about one possibility — that the United States might carry out a unilateral military strike against the North that could lead to full-out war on the Korean Peninsula.

“No matter what options the United States and President Trump want to use, they have promised to have full consultation with South Korea and get our consent in advance,” Mr. Moon said in a nationally televised news conference. “This is a firm agreement between South Korea and the United States. The people can be assured that there will be no war.”

He said he thought Mr. Trump’s combative recent statements were meant to “demonstrate his resolve and put pressure on North Korea.”

“I don’t think he necessarily made them with an intent to realize a military action,” Mr. Moon said. “On this, there is sufficient communication and agreement being made between South Korea and the United States.”

In his interview with the magazine The American Prospect, Mr. Bannon said the fact that Seoul, South Korea’s capital, lies within range of the North’s conventional weapons ruled out a military solution to the standoff.

“Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us,” Mr. Bannon was quoted as saying.

Mr. Bannon said the North Korea issue was a “sideshow” to what he called America’s “economic war with China,” the North’s sole major ally. He said the United States should stop hoping that Beijing will use its influence to rein in Pyongyang, and instead should proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.

Mr. Trump is said to have been considering firing Mr. Bannon, and it is difficult to guess what influence the strategist’s ideas about North Korea might have in Mr. Trump’s unconventional administration. But analysts in East Asia were astonished that he would suggest pulling all United States troops out of the South.

“The idea that anyone in the White House would even consider withdrawing U.S. forces defending South Korea if North Korea would only agree to a verifiable freeze on its current arsenal of an estimated 60 nuclear warheads is stunning,” said David Straub, a former American diplomat who is now a fellow at the Sejong Institute, a think tank near Seoul. “It would be pre-emptive surrender to a regime whose ultimate aim is to unify the Korean Peninsula on its own terms.”

A withdrawal of all 28,500 of the American troops based in South Korea would be far more than North Korea itself has demanded in return for suspending its nuclear and missile tests. Pyongyang wants the United States to halt joint military exercises with South Korea, and Washington has rejected that idea out of hand.

In South Korea, a full American withdrawal is widely seen as possible only after North Korea is completely denuclearized and a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War is signed. Even then, many in South Korea argue that the United States military should stay to maintain the regional balance of power.

Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior research fellow at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo, dismissed Mr. Bannon as an “amateur” and said his idea “doesn’t make sense for anybody who is seriously watching the military balance in the world.” If the United States withdrew its troops, he said, “Japan would face a direct potential threat from the peninsula, and it may consider its own military options, including nuclear arms.”

Chinese commentators noted that a full American withdrawal would be in line with China’s long-term goals, but said the idea would go nowhere politically. “I think it is bold, innovative but unrealistic,” said Zhang Baohui, a professor of international relations at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

“In reality, this may be the type of bargain that could break the quagmire over the North Korean nuclear issue,” Professor Zhang said. “Only someone like Bannon could entertain such bold initiatives. However, they will be pushed back by the establishment types within the administration and by congressional hawks.”

General Dunford, who was completing a three-day visit to China, said he had told Chinese officials that while the United States favored a peaceful outcome to the standoff with Pyongyang, “we are also being prudent in preparing military options. So we think it’s better to talk about those military options in advance.”

The general, who met with President Xi on Thursday, said he was eager to improve communications between the American and Chinese militaries, to reduce the risk of miscalculation. The two sides signed an agreement calling for periodic talks between the countries’ top generals, with the first round to start in November.

Source: NYT > World

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