‘US to ratchet up pres­sure in SMA talks’

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kang Seung-woo ksw@ko­re­atimes.co.kr

The ap­point­ment of a new U.S. en­voy for de­fense cost-shar­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with Korea is seen as Wash­ing­ton’s at­tempt to add more pres­sure on Seoul to pay more for the cost of main­tain­ing Amer­i­can troops here, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment of­fi­cials and diplo­matic pun­dits, Tues­day.

Given that the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is in the off­ing, the push to strike a deal is likely to be am­pli­fied in or­der for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to tout an “achieve­ment” for his re­elec­tion cam­paign.

The U.S. State Depart­ment has named Donna Wel­ton as chief ne­go­tia­tor for the Spe­cial Mea­sures Agree­ment (SMA), which de­ter­mines Korea’s cost-shar­ing for the United States Forces Korea (USFK), to suc­ceed Jim DeHart, who was ap­pointed as the U.S. co­or­di­na­tor for the Arc­tic re­gion last week. Wel­ton re­cently served as as­sis­tant chief of mis­sion at the U.S. Em­bassy in Afghanista­n. As a diplo­mat, Wel­ton has over 25 years of ex­pe­ri­ence and has worked in coun­tries in­clud­ing Fin­land and In­done­sia and at the U.S. mis­sion to the United Na­tions.

Her ap­point­ment came as the al­lies have re­mained far apart over the is­sue de­spite mul­ti­ple rounds of ne­go­ti­a­tions dat­ing back to last Septem­ber due to Trump’s de­mand for a hefty in­crease. Wash­ing­ton wants $1.3 bil­lion (1.55 tril­lion won) for 2020 — a nearly 50 per­cent in­crease from last year — but Seoul is main­tain­ing its pro­posal of a 13 per­cent in­crease from the pre­vi­ous cost-shar­ing ac­cord of $860 mil­lion. Due to the huge gap, Chung Eun-bo, Korea’s top SMA en­voy, and DeHart ten­ta­tively agreed to a deal in April, but Trump ve­toed the draft.

“The Wel­ton ap­point­ment will not work in fa­vor of Korea in the SMA ne­go­ti­a­tions,” a govern­ment source told The Korea Times.

“Given that we have been seek­ing to reach an agree­ment af­ter the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Novem­ber, the move is seen as the U.S. govern­ment’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to strike a deal be­fore the vote, which means the U.S. will in­crease pres­sure on Korea to pay more for the USFK.”

Kim Yeoul-soo, chief of the Se­cu­rity Strat­egy Of­fice at the Korea In­sti­tute for Mil­i­tary Af­fairs, echoed the govern­ment of­fi­cial’s view.

“Un­der the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, the ap­point­ment does not help Korea at all. I think the re­place­ment of DeHart was be­cause of Trump’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the ne­go­ti­a­tions,” Kim said.

“In that re­spect, it is not likely that a new chief ne­go­tia­tor will main­tain a sim­i­lar stance with DeHart and rather she will urge Korea to shoul­der a big­ger fi­nan­cial bur­den. Do you think that the new en­voy will ac­cept an in­crease of 13 per­cent, not up to $1.3 bil­lion?”

Ex­cep­tion­ally, Wel­ton will be in charge of de­fense cost-shar­ing talks with Ja­pan as well, so Kim ex­pects Trump to pro­mote both deals with Korea and Ja­pan on the cam­paign trail. The U.S. is de­mand­ing that Ja­pan pay $8 bil­lion per year, com­pared to $2.5 bil­lion it has paid for this year — the deal ex­pires next March.

How­ever, Park Won-gon, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at Han­dong Global Univer­sity, said the ap­point­ment of a new rep­re­sen­ta­tive may have lit­tle im­pact on the SMA talks.

“As Korea and the U.S. have al­ready fin­ished the de­tails and whether to strike a deal de­pends on a de­ci­sion from the two heads of state, the re­place­ment will not af­fect the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Korea and the U.S.,” Park said.

“Rather the ap­point­ment is tar­geted at press­ing Ja­pan to pay more for the Amer­i­can pres­ence there.”

Wel­ton’s past ca­reer backs up Park’s spec­u­la­tion as she is known as an ex­pert on Ja­pan with a flu­ent com­mand of Ja­panese. She pre­vi­ously served in Tokyo, Nagoya and Sap­poro and also worked as a cu­ra­tor of Ja­panese art at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York.

“As the ne­go­ti­a­tions with Ja­pan are more com­pli­cated than those with Korea, she may have been ap­pointed for these,” Park added.

In ad­di­tion, the per­son­nel shift also came as the U.S. is with­draw­ing 12,000 troops from Ger­many amid spec­u­la­tion that these with­drawals may ex­tend to the USFK.

How­ever, Park said that this would not be an easy de­ci­sion for the U.S. to make as it is cur­rently en­gaged in a diplo­matic feud with China, and North the Korea nu­clear is­sue still ex­ists.

Donna Wel­ton

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