S Ko­rea re­sists US pay­ment hike

Pretoria News - - WORLD - | | dpa

US SEC­RE­TARY of State Mike Pom­peo said yes­ter­day an on­go­ing boy­cott of Qatar by four of Amer­ica’s al­lies in the Mid­dle East “has dragged on too long,” though he gave no sign of any com­ing break­through in the dis­pute.

Stop­ping off in the small, en­ergy-rich na­tion as part of a Mideast tour, he said “great things” were hap­pen­ing be­tween Qatar and the US.

Pom­peo said he signed a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with Qatar re­gard­ing the ex­pan­sion and ren­o­va­tion of al-Udeid Air Base, which hosts the for­ward head­quar­ters of the US mil­i­tary’s Cen­tral Com­mand and some 10 000 Amer­i­can troops.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates be­gan a boy­cott of Qatar in 2017, al­leg­ing Qatar funds ex­trem­ist groups and had close ties to Iran.

Qatar has de­nied fund­ing ex­trem­ists, but Doha shares a mas­sive off­shore nat­u­ral gas field with Tehran. SOUTH Ko­rea is re­sist­ing a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­mand for sharply higher pay­ments to de­fray the cost of bas­ing US forces in its ter­ri­tory, rais­ing fears that US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump might threaten a troop draw­down at a time of sen­si­tive diplo­macy on the Korean penin­sula.

US ne­go­tia­tors have sought a 50% in­crease in Seoul’s an­nual pay­ment, which last year was about $830mil­lion (R11.483 bil­lion), or about half the es­ti­mated cost of host­ing 28500 US troops, ac­cord­ing to two US of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sions.

The US stance re­flects Trump’s view that US al­lies have taken ad­van­tage of US mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion for decades – a view re­sented by many South Korean of­fi­cials, who say they al­ready pay more to the US than al­most any other ally ex­cept Ja­pan.

Talks that be­gan last March on five-year fund­ing agree­ment were

asus­pended after ne­go­tia­tors did not agree on new terms by the end of last year, when the last agree­ment ex­pired.

South Ko­rea, which ini­tially called for ad­just­ing an­nual pay­ments only to ac­count for in­fla­tion, is ex­pected to make a counter-of­fer this month, but it is un­likely to sat­isfy the White House, US of­fi­cials said.

“The Kore­ans want to keep the sta­tus quo,” said one US of­fi­cial. “But the pres­i­dent had made clear, not just to Ko­rea but to other al­lies, that the sta­tus quo won’t do.”

The stand-off is strain­ing the long-stand­ing al­liance as Trump plans a sec­ond sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to re­new the US push for elim­i­na­tion of Py­ongyang’s nu­clear arse­nal, and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae in is pur­su­ing his own rap­proche­ment with Kim. South Ko­rea is anx­ious about a po­ten­tial with­drawal of US troops if an agree­ment can’t be reached, and um­brage over hard­est bar­gain­ing from its clos­est ally since the Korean War, which ended 66 years ago.

“If it was rea­son­able, we’d go along,” said Song Young Gil, a mem­ber of the Na­tional Assem­bly. “But the Trumpian way of… ac­cus­ing us of free rid­ing – we can’t cave to that… Whether it’s Korean money or Amer­i­can money, it’s tax­payer funds.”

Song, who be­longs to the same party as Moon and sup­ports en­gage­ment with North Ko­rea, said he be­lieved that threats to re­move US troops were a ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic and would not hap­pen, given the US’s broader strate­gic in­ter­ests in north­east Asia.

Trump’s abil­ity to with­draw troops is lim­ited. Con­gress last year passed a law bar­ring the Pen­tagon from re­duc­ing troop lev­els in Ko­rea below 22 000 un­less the pres­i­dent cer­ti­fies to Con­gress that do­ing so is in US in­ter­ests.

Ne­go­tia­tors are con­sid­er­ing var­i­ous ideas to break the im­passe, in­clud­ing hav­ing South Ko­rea pay a por­tion of the US cost of joint mil­i­tary train­ing ex­er­cises, or to help de­fray costs of de­ploy­ing US bombers, war­ships, mis­sile de­fence bat­ter­ies and other mil­i­tary as­sets. Also, the cost of such ex­er­cises is tiny com­pared with what South Ko­rea pays ev­ery year for host­ing US troops.

South Ko­rea is also fund­ing more than 90% of a $10.8bil­lion con­struc­tion project that will al­low US troops to move from bases near Seoul and the De­mil­i­tarised Zone along the bor­der with North Ko­rea to new in­stal­la­tions farther south. Song said that such favourable terms en­sured that Trump would not pull out in the end.

Many con­ser­va­tives in South Ko­rea, though, worry that the stalled talks are signs of a fray­ing re­la­tion­ship.

| AP

KASH­MIRI vil­lagers use cell­phones to record the fu­neral of rebel com­man­der Zeenatul Is­lam in Su­gan vil­lage, out­side Srinagar, in In­dian con­trolled Kash­mir, yes­ter­day, where mas­sive anti-In­dia protests and clashes erupted, after a gun­bat­tle be­tween mil­i­tants and gov­ern­ment forces the night be­fore. The clashes, in which at least 16 peo­ple were in­jured, erupted after gov­ern­ment forces tried to stop mourn­ers from at­tend­ing the fu­neral of one of In­dia’s most wanted rebels in the Hi­malayan re­gion, who po­lice say was killed in the gun­bat­tle. Most Kash­miris sup­port the rebel cause that the ter­ri­tory be united ei­ther un­der Pak­istani rule or as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try, while also par­tic­i­pat­ing in street protests against In­dian con­trol. Nearly 70 000 peo­ple have been killed in the upris­ing and the en­su­ing In­dian crack­down.

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