Columns

Mattis: U.S. Troops on Korean Peninsula Non-Negotiable, 'Not Going Anywhere'

Secretary of Defense James Mattis meets with Republic of Korea Minister of Defense Song Young-moo at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Shangri-La, Singapore, on June 2, 2018. (DoD Photo by Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.)

WASHINGTON — Returning from Singapore, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Sunday he found “a surprising commonality” among Indo-Pacific leaders about needing “a complete verifiable, irreversible, removal of WMD, of nuclear weapons and WMD” in North Korea negotiations.

“So we’ll see how it goes, but a lot of support across the board. Some challenges on other issues, but I did not hear any disagreement on this,” he said after numerous meetings at the 2018 International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue.

Mattis noted on North Korea that “one thing that keeps coming up is about our troop strength on the peninsula.”

“I’ll say it again, I’m not making news here, the same thing — we’re not going anywhere. It’s not even a subject of the discussions. You know, obviously there are there because of security conditions 10 years ago, five years ago, this year,” he said. “If five years from now, 10 years from now, it could be up for review, that would be between a democracy called the Republic of Korea and a democracy called the United States of America.”

“…So you can see there is no change. Everything is steady. I’m just telling you this, because I don’t know what more I can say.”

Last week at the White House with former North Korean spy chief Kim Yong-chol, President Trump said of the U.S. goal of securing denuclearization, stressed by the State Department as an immediate must-have, that “I think it’s going to be a process.”

Asked about using the “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign on North Korea, including a bill pending in Congress named after tortured and murdered U.S. hostage Otto Warmbier, Trump replied, “I don’t want to use that term. Because we’re getting along.”

Mattis said that the road to the on-again planned June 12 summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is rocky because “all negotiations are bumpy.”

“I mean, you remember how we were going crazy — oh, gosh it’s off when a bad letter comes in. And immediately it’s back on? Welcome to reality. It’s only TV that does this. How many times does DPRK travel on an international negotiation? The best I can figure it’s once, back about 61, when they made their friendship treaty with China. I don’t think there’s even been other negotiations,” the Defense secretary said.

“We have more experience obviously than a lot of people do working like this together. So yes, it’s going to be bumpy, but nothing late breaking or too difficult.”