Joe Biden says he wouldn't use threat of cutting U.S. troop levels in ties with South Korea

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FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Biden campaigns in Florida
FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Biden campaigns in Florida

(Reuters) - Democratic U.S. presidential challenger Joe Biden said that if elected he will strengthen Washington's alliance with Seoul and not use the threat of reducing U.S. troop levels in South Korea as a bargaining chip.

During the Trump administration, South Korea and the United States have been at odds over how much of the cost South Korea should shoulder to accommodate U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

President Donald Trump has said South Korea should pay more and the disagreement raised the prospect that he could push to withdraw at least some U.S. troops, as he has done elsewhere.

"As President, I'll stand with South Korea, strengthening our alliance to safeguard peace in East Asia and beyond, rather than extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops", Biden wrote in a piece published on Friday in South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"I'll engage in principled diplomacy and keep pressing toward a denuclearized North Korea and a unified Korean Peninsula, while working to reunite Korean Americans separated from loved ones in North Korea for decades", he wrote.

Earlier this month, cost-sharing talks were a major sticking point during an annual security meeting between Defence Minister Suh Wook and U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper.

The U.S. military said this month that it will put nearly 9,000 South Korean workers on unpaid leave from April in the absence of an agreement on the sharing of costs of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Frances Kerry)