Trump says S. Korea can have nukes, considers pulling out US troops

March 28, 2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — Republican front-runner Donald Trump said in a news interview released over the weekend that if he becomes president, he will allow South Korea to have its own nuclear weapons and consider pulling out U.S. troops from the country.

According to The New York Times picked up in Seoul on Sunday, Trump described his foreign policy as being “America first” and that he will not stand by as the U.S. is “ripped off” by smarter, shrewder and tougher countries.

The entrepreneur-turned-politician said that he is not adverse to South Korea and Japan developing their own nuclear deterrence to check Pyongyang’s provocations.

He said that with North Korea having nukes, it makes sense if neighboring countries have similar weapons to protect themselves.

The North, despite warnings from the international community has detonated four nuclear devices starting in 2006, with the latest being tested on Jan. 6.

He then said that unless South Korea and Japan significantly increased their contributions to Washington’s military presence on their soil, he would withdraw soldiers. Trump said such a move is not something he would like but would push forward anyway.

Trump said the United States can ill afford to lose vast amounts of money by stationing troops in these countries.

The latest remarks, which are seen as Trump’s most in-depth discussion on foreign policy so far, directly contradict Washington’s long-held stance on nuclear non-proliferation in Northeast Asia, and the country’s firm commitment to safeguarding its two key allies — South Korea and Japan — by stationing troops.

The United States has some 28,500, mostly ground forces in South Korea, and has maintained a sizable naval, Marine Corps and Air Force contingent in Japan. Washington has mutual defense treaties with both countries.

Trump stressed that while the United States will be friendly toward everyone, the country will no longer be exploited.

“We cannot afford to be losing vast amounts of billions of dollars on all of this,” he said in the interview.

Related to the latest remarks, local political watchers said that Trump has made similar statements about pulling U.S. troops out of South Korea in the past.

In a earlier interview with The Washington Post, Trump said that as a rich country South Korea was “free-riding” on defense and that the United States was being treated unfairly. At the time, he indicated that a move to acquire nuclear weapons by South Korea and Japan was something that needed to be discussed.

He argued that if the U.S. continued to show weakness on the global stage and a lack of resolve to tackle security challenges, these two allies will move to become nuclear powers.

“Trump may be hinting that he wants a renegotiation of the defense treaties with South Korea and Japan,” a local source said. He pointed out that the presidential hopeful also lambasted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for not being beneficial to the United States.

The Republican, meanwhile, said that he did not support the use of nuclear weapons unless there was no other recourse.