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US, South Korea set to resume defense cost-sharing talks

U.S. soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade connect a bridge section during a rafting exercise on Namhan River, South Korea, on Feb. 27, 2019.

ADELINE WITHERSPOON/U.S. ARMY

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 23, 2019

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and South Korea prepared to resume negotiations Tuesday on footing the bill for some 28,500 American troops stationed on the peninsula, just over three months before the current agreement is set to expire.

With President Donald Trump pressing Seoul to pay more, the talks come amid concerns about a rift between the longtime allies as Washington is hoping to restart stalled nuclear talks with North Korea.

Teams led by State Department official James DeHart and veteran South Korean negotiator Chang Won-sam will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday in Seoul to discuss the 11th Special Measures Agreement, according to the foreign ministry. It gave no other details.

The topic also was expected to be on the agenda Monday when Trump meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The two sides missed last year’s deadline after months of fraught bargaining but agreed in February on a stopgap measure that required South Korea to pay 1.04 trillion won ($920 million at the time) for 2018.

That was an 8.2% increase from the previous year. However, the contract was only for only one year, instead of the usual five-year period, and is due to expire on Dec. 31.

South Korean media have reported that the Trump administration has sought a fivefold increase to about $5 billion a year by including funding for the deployment of bombers and other strategic assets in addition to the traditional labor costs.

Negotiations over the agreement, which have taken place since 1991, have always been difficult. But the alliance has faced unprecedented pressure in recent months after the South Koreans ended a U.S.-backed military intelligence sharing agreement with rival Japan.

North Korea also has stepped up criticism of the alliance, which it considers an existential threat, as it seeks security guarantees as well as sanctions relief in exchange for possible concessions over its nuclear weapons program.

Trump has consistently called for South Korea to increase its contribution, in line with his general position that U.S. allies should pay more for their own defense.

In August, he tweeted that South Korea had “agreed to pay substantially more money to the United States in order to defend itself from North Korea.” South Korean officials stressed at the time that negotiations had not yet begun.

South Korea insists that it has paid nearly half of the $2 billion cost for stationing the troops in South Korea as well as funding a nearly $11 billion construction project to expand Camp Humphreys, the new U.S. military headquarters base south of Seoul.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

 

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