U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday it is "entirely premature" to talk about any reduction in American troop levels in South Korea as a possible benefit of North Korea's abandonment of its nuclear program.
Kerry made his most recent remarks at a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, tamping down speculation that arose after he said earlier this week that the U.S. is "prepared to begin the process of reducing the need for American force and presence in the region" if North Korea rejoins nuclear negotiations.
"Let me make it absolutely clear that the mere entering into talks is not an invitation to take any actions regarding troops or anything else at this point. It would be way too premature to have any thought or even discussion about such a thing," Kerry said.
"The only purpose of entering the talks is to come to an understanding regarding, first, the denuclearization, and then, following the denuclearization, obviously, whatever relationship might be appropriate, but it is entirely premature to be talking about any troop reductions or anything else at this point in time," he said.
Kerry spoke after high-level security and alliance talks with South Korea, dubbed a "two plus two" meeting, which brought together the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also said that the U.S. does "not intend change our policy on deployment of our forces in the Republic of Korea," adding, "In fact, I think it's just the opposite."
The U.S. keeps about 28,500 troops in South Korea as a deterrent against threats from North Korea. (Yonhap)