South Korea is on alert after U.S. President Donald Trump said he might delay the finalization of a revised trade agreement with Seoul.
U.S. and South Korean trade representatives had agreed U.S. steel tariffs would not apply against South Korean firms and that South Korea would lift restrictions on U.S. automobiles.
But Thursday during a speech in Richfield, Ohio, Trump appeared to be throwing a wrench into the recent agreement, even after he had described it as a “wonderful deal with a wonderful ally,” The New York Times reported Friday.
Trump said he is linking his pending decision on the trade deal with South Korea to the success of upcoming U.S. talks with North Korea because it is a “very strong card.”
In Sejong City, South Korean officials were scrambling to figure out what Trump means by tying trade to North Korea politics, South Korean news service Newsis reported Friday.
A source at South Korea’s trade ministry said the government is “trying to figure out the intention” of Trump “through various channels.”
A second source said South Korea is confused because the negotiations concluded less than a week ago.
“We are flustered,” the source said.
The details of the trade negotiations, which concluded Monday, are still being worked out on both sides. In Seoul, the deal has yet to reach the National Assembly.
Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, told The Times Trump is “twisting South Korea’s arms” so the upcoming summit with North Korea will not fail.
Trump wants South Korean President Moon Jae-in to guarantee a success at the U.S.-North Korea summit, Koh said.
The United States’ highest priority is North Korea denuclearization, the U.S. State Department said Thursday.