President Donald Trump wanted to withdraw all American troops from the Korean Peninsula earlier this year but White House Chief of Staff John Kelly talked him out of it, NBC News reports.
- Two White House officials told NBC that Trump and Kelly had a “heated exchange” after the president proposed pulling all U.S. troops out of South Korea on the eve of February’s Winter Olympics.
- The officials claimed “Kelly strongly — and successfully — dissuaded Trump from ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula,” according to NBC News.
- Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general who has served as chief of staff since July 2017, “portrays himself to Trump administration aides as the lone bulwark against catastrophe, curbing the erratic urges of a president who has a questionable grasp on policy issues and functions of the government,” current and former White House officials told NBC News.
- NBC News also reports that “Trump and Kelly seem to have tired of each other,” and that some current and former White House officials expect the chief of staff to step down by July. Kelly has also been quoted calling the president “an idiot.”
- Last August, the Associated Press reported that Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, also a retired Marine general, “agreed in the earliest weeks of Trump’s presidency that one of the should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House.”
- Approximately 30,000 American troops are currently stationed in South Korea, most along the border with North Korea. Trump has expressed his desire to end the U.S. military mission on the Peninsula before.
- The Washington Post reported in March that the president “seemed to threaten to pull U.S. troops stationed in South Korea if he didn’t get what he wanted on trade with Seoul” during a fundraising event in Missouri.
- “We lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military,” Trump said at the event. “We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let’s see what happens.”
- Tensions on the Peninsula appear to be thawing. On Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in person for the first time. Many credit Trump with persuading Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table.