U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says that he has not heard of any plans to withdraw American troops on the Korean Peninsula.
He made the remarks to reporters during a visit to Vietnam on Thursday when asked whether he had come across a South Korean media report saying that Washington was considering a significant cut in the roughly 28,500 troops it has on the Peninsula if Seoul refuses to contribute more to the costs of deployment.
The Pentagon chief said he comes across inaccurate or overstated reports all the time, adding that the U.S. is not threatening their allies.
"We're not threatening allies over this. This is a negotiation. State Department has the lead. Let's let them sit down with their counterparts and work through this as allies should, privately, and work through the details."
There's been growing speculation that the U.S. could reduce deployment, after the latest round of negotiations on the defense cost sharing were cut short amid wide differences.
Seoul said Washington sought a large increase by adding new articles to their cost-sharing agreement, but the figure, South Korea says, needs to be fair and mutually acceptable.
The U.S., meanwhile, claimed the proposals put forward by South Korea weren't responsive to its requests.
Reports say Washington wants Seoul to pay 5 billion U.S. dollars annually, a five-fold jump from what South Korea agreed to pay under the current deal that expires at the end of 2019.
South Korea's defense ministry also said that the U.S. remains committed to maintaining the current level of U.S. military personnel on the peninsula when asked about the same report.
"During the 51st Security Consultative Meeting, U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper reaffirmed his pledge that U.S. troops in South Korea will continue to be stationed on the Korean Peninsula."
In light of the uncertainty, the floor leaders of South Korea's main political parties, visiting the U.S. held a series of meetings with U.S. lawmakers to explain Seoul's stance.
Speaking to reporters, they said that many representatives expressed concerns that President Donald Trump was calling for a hefty hike and shared the view that a reasonable conclusion needs to be reached based on mutual respect and trust.
Kim Min-ji, Arirang News.