Seoul, U.S. reach deal on shared de­fense costs

South Korea agrees to in­crease how much it pays to­ward Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - As­so­ci­ated press

SEOUL — South Korea and the United States struck a new deal Sun­day that in­creases Seoul’s con­tri­bu­tion for the cost of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pres­ence on its soil, over­com­ing pre­vi­ous failed ne­go­ti­a­tions that caused wor­ries about their decades-long al­liance.

The de­vel­op­ment comes as Pres­i­dent Trump is set to hold his sec­ond sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Viet­nam in late Fe­bru­ary.

South Korea last year pro­vided about $830 mil­lion, cov­er­ing roughly 40% of the cost of the de­ploy­ment of about 28,500 U.S. sol­diers whose pres­ence is meant to de­ter aggression from North Korea. Trump has pushed for South Korea to pay more.

On Sun­day, chief ne­go­tia­tors from the two coun­tries signed a new cost-shar­ing plan, which re­quires South Korea to pay about $924 mil­lion in 2019, Seoul’s For­eign Min­istry said in a state­ment.

The state­ment said the two coun­tries reaf­firmed the need for a “sta­ble” U.S. mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment amid the “rapidly chang­ing sit­u­a­tion on the Korean penin­sula.” The min­istry said the U.S. as­sured South Korea that it is com­mit­ted to the al­liance and has no plans to ad­just the num­ber of its troops in South Korea.

South Korea be­gan pay­ing for the U.S. mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment in the early 1990s af­ter re­build­ing its econ­omy from the dev­as­ta­tion of the 1950-53 Korean War. The big U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence in South Korea is a sym­bol of the coun­tries’ al­liance, forged in blood dur­ing the war, but also a source of long-run­ning anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ments.

About 20 anti-U.S. ac­tivists ral­lied near the For­eign Min­istry build­ing in Seoul on Sun­day, chant­ing slo­gans such as, “No more money for U.S. troops.” No vi­o­lence was re­ported.

“The United States govern­ment re­al­izes that Korea does a lot for our al­liance and peace and sta­bil­ity in the re­gion,” chief U.S. ne­go­tia­tor Ti­mothy Betts said Sun­day in Seoul. “We are very pleased our con­sul­ta­tions re­sulted in agree­ment that will strengthen trans­parency and deepen our co­op­er­a­tion and the al­liance.”

The deal, which in­volves the spend­ing of South Korean tax­payer money, re­quires par­lia­men­tary ap­proval in South Korea but not in the United States, ac­cord­ing to Seoul’s For­eign Min­istry.

The al­lies had failed to reach a new cost-shar­ing plan dur­ing about 10 rounds of talks. A five-year 2014 deal that cov­ered South Korea’s pay­ment last year ex­pired at the end of 2018.

Some con­ser­va­tives in South Korea voiced con­cerns over a weak­en­ing al­liance with the U.S. that comes at the same time as a stale­ment in ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea to de­prive it of its nu­clear weapons. They said Trump might use the failed mil­i­tary cost-shar­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions as an ex­cuse to pull back some U.S. troops in South Korea as a bar­gain­ing chip in talks with Kim.

Trump told CBS’ “Face the Na­tion” on Feb. 3 that he has no plans to with­draw troops from South Korea. Dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign, Trump sug­gested he could pull back troops from South Korea and Ja­pan un­less they took on a greater share of the fi­nan­cial bur­dens of sup­port­ing U.S. sol­diers de­ployed there.

Trump an­nounced last week that he will sit down with Kim for their sec­ond sum­mit. Their first sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore in June re­sulted in Kim’s vague com­mit­ment to the “com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean penin­sula,” a phrase that his pro­pa­ganda ma­chine had used when it ar­gued it would de­nu­cle­arize only af­ter the U.S. with­draws its troops from South Korea.

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