South Korean soldiers stand guard at the Korean Demilitarized Zone’s Joint Security Area in May 2017.

South Korean soldiers stand guard at the Korean Demilitarized Zone’s Joint Security Area in May 2017. (Aaron Kidd/Stars and Stripes)

Thirty-five Republican lawmakers said they are “gravely concerned” with the ongoing discussion to formally declare an end to the Korean War and urged the White House to reject pursuing a declaration with North Korea.

The House members said in a letter addressed to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday “there is no historical precedent” that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would abide by a peace agreement, as indicated by his continued “illegal activity to skirt sanctions on its nuclear weapons program and egregious human rights abuses.”

“Declaring an end to hostilities should come at the culmination of comprehensive and long-term talks with North Korea after eliminating its nuclear arsenal and demonstrating verifiable improvements on its human rights record,” the letter said. “It should not be offered as an attempt to initiate talks with an uncertain endgame and strategy.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in in recent months has prioritized the issue before his term ends next year. His administration, which argues that a formal declaration may normalize relations with the North, has met with U.S. diplomats on numerous occasions to discuss the proposal.

Lawmakers who signed the letter include Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel of California, two of the first three Korean American women elected to Congress; Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, a former Green Beret; and Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, a former Army intelligence specialist.

The lawmakers echoed the concerns of some international policy experts, who caution that such a declaration could bolster calls for the withdrawal of the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. Pyongyang continues to demand the full withdrawal of the U.S. military from the Korean Peninsula and criticizes the joint military exercises conducted by the two allies.

“Opening the door for considering for the removal of U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula before the North has fully denuclearized would have disastrous consequences for U.S. national security, erode our combined deterrence, and jeopardize the lives of tens of millions of Americans, Koreans, and Japanese,” the Republicans wrote in their letter.

The lawmakers said they acknowledged and supported the “measured approach” the White House “demonstrated thus far” but urged it to consult with the South Korean government on the “clear dangers and risks” of the proposal.

Congress appears to be divided on the issue by political party. In a separate letter addressed to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month, nearly two dozen Democratic House lawmakers called on the White House to declare a “final end” to the Korean War.

“While North Korea’s nuclear weapons continue to pose a threat to peace and security around the world, a forever state of war does not resolve this issue, nor does it serve the national interest of the United States and our allies,” 23 Democrats wrote in their letter.

The details of a possible declaration have yet to be publicly revealed; however, Ministry of Unification chief Lee In-young said in November that negotiations with the U.S. are “coming to a finish to some degree.”

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty. The agreement was intended to bring about a “final peaceful settlement," according to the original document.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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