U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is refusing to speculate on whether the U.S. would consider reducing American troop numbers in South Korea after the U.S. delegation walked out of this week's bilateral defense cost-sharing talks in Seoul.
His remarks are in stark contrast to last week when he insisted U.S. troops will remain in South Korea at the current level.
In a briefing near Manila on Tuesday he reiterated that South Korea is a wealthy country that can and should contribute more.
The U.S. is said to have requested a five-fold increase of Seoul's contribution by establishing a new article in the cost-sharing deal. It wants five-billion U.S. dollars a year from Seoul, up from the current 870-million dollars to support and maintain some 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.
"I'm sure it's in capable hands and we just take this one step at a time. Work closely with our South Korean partners. Look, as I said publicly the other day, South Korea is a wealthy country. They can and should contribute more. And beyond that I will leave it to the State Department to work out the particulars."
On North Korea, Esper said the allies are prepared to deter any threat and they're prepared to "fight tonight" a slogan used by the allied forces.
It's seen as a way to pressure Pyeongyang after it expressed pessimistic views in resuming denuclearization talks with the U.S. after it announced it's postponing the wintertime combined military air drill with South Korea to support diplomatic efforts.
Kim Ji-yeon, Arirang News.