WASHINGTON-- A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill aimed at preventing the unilateral withdrawal of American troops from South Korea.
The bill was introduced by Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Van Taylor (R-TX) and co-sponsored by six others, including Korean American Andy Kim (D-NJ), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI).
Named the "United States and Republic of Korea Alliance Support Act," the legislation is designed to limit the use of government funds in fiscal year 2019 to lower the number of American forces in South Korea to below 22,000.
About 28,500 troops are currently stationed on the Korean Peninsula to deter North Korean aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Any drawdown is conditional on joint certification by the secretary of defense and joint chiefs of staff chairman that South Korea "would be fully capable of defending itself and deterring a conflict on the Korean Peninsula that would threaten United States interests following such a reduction," the bill reads.
It also requires the secretary to first consult with South Korea and Japan, and the secretary and the chairman to certify to relevant congressional committees that North Korea has "completed verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmaments."
U.S. President Donald Trump has previously complained about the cost of keeping troops in South Korea, leading to concerns of an abrupt withdrawal.
The allies have also struggled to reach a compromise on renewing a defense cost sharing agreement that expired at the end of last year amid reports that the Trump administration has demanded a hefty increase in Seoul's contributions.
"We think it's important to establish before the next meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un that the United States is not about to leave South Korea at least not before there's transformational progress on the Korean Peninsula," Malinowski told reporters.
"Our presence there has prevented war for more than 60 years. It would be reckless, we think, to abandon this commitment on the basis of paper promises from the North Koreans while they continue to threaten the region with both nuclear and conventional weapons," he added.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a Senate panel hearing Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to fully give up its nuclear arsenal because its leaders have staked the regime's survival on the weapons program.
Source: Yonhap news Agency