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Diplomacy

US and South Korea at odds over military costs

South Korea-US military cost-sharing deadlock drags out as US demands $1 billion.


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Updated: January 24, 2019

South Korea’s struggle to reach an agreement with the US for the cost of maintaining US troops here intensified when the gap between the total amount of Seoul’s contributions demanded by the US and that which Seoul was able to accept, as well as differences over the contract period, widened in December as a result of instructions from the very top in Washington, sources said Wednesday.

Through a diplomatic channel, the US demanded in late December that South Korea pay $1.2 billion for costs related to the presence of the 28,500 US Armed Forces soldiers, under a contract valid for one year. The proposal, deemed to be an ultimatum from US President Donald Trump, stipulated that no offer less than $1 billion would be entertained.

Negotiations between the allies have reached a stalemate since their last meeting on Dec. 13, when talks broke down. It was their 10th round of talks since they began in March.

South Korean negotiators insist that the amount should not exceed 1 trillion won ($887 million), calling that number psychologically significant for the Korean public, and that there should be a three-year contract.

“If we seal a one-year deal that will be applied to just this year, we have to enter into negotiations for the next year and beyond right away. … The validity period (that the US suggested) is hard to accept, as well as the amount,” a source said on condition of anonymity.

The two sides narrowed their differences to a certain extent in November and a deal was to be closed by the end of 2018, but the sudden demand that Seoul shoulder a much higher cost burden led the talks to break down.

The previous Special Measures Agreement, a five-year contract between the US and South Korea, expired Dec. 31. Under the pact, South Korea paid about 960 billion won per year for the stationing of US troops.

According to government statistics, South Korea increased its contribution from 680.4 billion won in 2005 to 960.2 billion won in 2018, a difference of 41.12 percent.

In August, Trump complained the US was “subsidizing” the militaries of South Korea, Japan and its Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia. “When you have wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia, like Japan, like South Korea, why are we subsidizing their military?” Trump asked, adding that the US paid for “about 60 percent” of South Korea’s military costs.

Since 1991, the allies have held talks to decide how they should share the costs of stationing US Forces Korea here to support a stable presence and protect South Korea against military threats from North Korea. The negotiations focus on three areas: payroll, construction and logistics.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s newspaper on Wednesday criticized Washington over its move to ask for more money from South Korea for the cost-sharing deal. The Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary that the US demand is outdated, referring to last year’s summit deals between the Koreas’ leaders where they agreed to ease military tensions on the peninsula.

“The demand for a rise in (Seoul’s) share in the defense cost for deploying US strategic assets amid such conditions is in itself anachronistic,” the paper said.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)



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The Korea Herald
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