Seoul agrees to pay more for US protection

2019-02-11 02:49:37 GMT2019-02-11 10:49:37(Beijing Time) Sina English

 

Officials signed a short-term agreement yesterday to boost South Korea’s contribution toward the upkeep of US troops on the peninsula, after a previous deal lapsed amid US President Donald Trump’s call for the South to pay more.

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The new deal must still be approved by South Korea’s parliament, but it would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won (US$916 million) from 960 billion won in 2018.

Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months.

“It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful process,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at a meeting before another official from the foreign ministry initialed the agreement.

While acknowledging lingering domestic criticism of the new deal and the need for parliamentary approval, Kang said the response had “been positive so far.”

The US State Department senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements, Timothy Betts, met Kang before signing the agreement, and told her the money represented a small but important part of South Korea’s support for the alliance.

“The United States government realizes that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region,” he said.

The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution.

Deadlock after US demand

South Korean officials have said they had sought to limit its burden to 1 trillion won and make the accord valid for at least three years.

A senior South Korean ruling party legislator said last month that negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a “sudden, unacceptable” demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year.

But both sides worked to hammer out an agreement to minimize the impact on South Koreans working on US military bases, and focus on nuclear talks ahead of a second summit between US and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Seoul officials said.

The disagreement had raised the prospect that Trump could decide to withdraw at least some troops from South Korea, as he has in other countries like Syria. But yesterday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the United States had affirmed it would not be changing the scale of its troop presence.

Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to the US Congress on Tuesday that he would meet DPRK leader Kim Jong Un on February 27-28 in Vietnam, following their unprecedented meeting in June in Singapore.

Kim Eui-kyeom, spokesman of South Korea’s presidential Blue House, said yesterday that President Moon Jae-in would discuss the upcoming summit with Trump “soon” and that US and DPRK officials would meet in an Asian country next week.

After the June meeting, Trump announced a halt to joint military exercises with South Korea.

 (Agencies)

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