US President Donald Trump has confirmed reports that he is mulling American withdraw from a major trade pact with South Korea despite opposition by key members of his national security team and amid heightened tensions with North Korea over its missile and nuclear weapons program.
Speaking to reporters Saturday while visiting hurricane-struck city of Houston Trump stated that he intends to discuss with his advisers next week whether to abandon the trade agreement with the key East Asian ally, just a day after speaking with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and striking a deal allowing the country's access to longer-range missiles as well as a potential weapons sale to Seoul.
The development came as some senior administration officials -- including National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn – “are trying to prevent Trump from withdrawing from the agreement,” the Washington Post reported Saturday citing “people close to the process” that spoke on condition of anonymity.
US President Donald Trump shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on August 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
One reason the key White House advisers are trying to stop Trump from withdrawing from the South Korea free trade agreement, the daily added, “is because they do not want to isolate the government in Seoul at a time when North Korea has become increasingly adversarial with its missile program, testing nuclear weapons and firing missiles over Japan.”
It further quoted a White House spokeswoman as saying, “discussions are ongoing, but we have no announcements at this time.”
The US-Korea Free Trade Agreement has often been harshly criticized by Trump, who has threatened to pull out of what he described as “a horrible deal” that has left America "destroyed."
According to the report, while Trump may still decide to remain in the trade deal in order to renegotiate its terms, “the internal preparations for terminating the deal are far along and the formal withdrawal process could begin as soon as this coming week.”
If Trump pulls out from the trade pact, the report noted, he could try to force South Korea to import more American products with little to no import restrictions, something he believes will help US companies and workers.
South Korea, however, could also decide to refuse any discussions with Trump, prompting a trade war between the close allies.
Trump is "playing with fire," said Gary Schmitt, co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the conservative Washington-based think tank, the American Enterprise Institute as quoted in the report.
"There is a new president in South Korea whose instincts probably are to be probably not as pro-America as his predecessor and now you are putting him in situation where he has to react. In fact, what you need now is as much cooperation as possible," Schmitt emphasized.
This is while Trump had threatened in an interview back in April that “with the Korean deal, we terminate and it’s over,” adding: “I will do that unless we make a fair deal. We’re getting destroyed in Korea.”
Trump has expressed major frustration with his inability to follow through on campaign pledges to abandon trade deals that he argues have disadvantaged US workers. He came close several months ago to starting a withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but he stopped short after intense lobbying by advisers and the business community.