President’s threat to pull troops “raises eyebrows,” says top S. Korean diplomat

Last Updated Mar 17, 2018 4:48 PM EDT

In an interview to air Sunday on "Face the Nation," top South Korean diplomat Kang Kyung-Wha said the president's apparent threat to remove U.S. troops from South Korea over a trade dispute "raises eyebrows," but the country remains "absolutely confident of the American commitment to the alliance and the troop presence in our country."

"We take any comment coming from the president very seriously, but in the larger scheme of things," Kang told CBS News "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan. She cited a "bedrock of peace and security" in northeast Asia "for decades."

At a private fundraiser in Missouri Wednesday, in audio obtained by the Washington Post, President Trump seemed to threaten pulling U.S. troops over "unfair" trade relationships that are "making a fortune" for South Korea.

"Now we have a very big trade deficit with them, and we protect them," the president reportedly said, "So we lose money on trade, and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let's see what happens."

Tariffs have been a source of tension in South Korea's relationship with the United States. President Trump's recently announced steel and aluminum tariffs tax significant imports from the country, and are set to take effect March 23. They come amid an already tense renegotiation of KORUS, the U.S.-South Korea free trade deal.

The two countries are also engaged in talks for a new so-called Special Measures Agreement to share the costs of maintaining the U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula.

Kang said South Korea has been "arguing very much" that as a pivotal ally in the upcoming North Korean summit, "we need an exception."

The foreign minister has been in Washington, D.C. talking with congressional and administration leaders.

Asked by Brennan if the White House has made any assurances South Korea would be among the countries exempted from the tariffs, Kang did not confirm.

"I think we'll know when the decision is made and announced. But I think we've put -- we're putting the best arguments in place."

Margaret Brennan's interview of Kang Kyung-Wha airs on "Face the Nation" Sunday. Click here to check your local listings.