Skorea agrees to pay more to keep US troops
South Korea and the United States struck a new one-year deal Sunday that increases Seoul’s contribution for the cost of America’s military presence on its soil, overcoming previous failed negotiations that caused worries about their decades-long alliance.
The development comes as President Donald 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 percent of the cost of the deployment of 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 in Seoul that 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.
Meanwhile, U.S. fears about China and Russia’s growing influence in Central Europe will top Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s agenda as he heads to the region this week, Trump administration officials said.
Pompeo left Sunday on a five-nation tour of Europe that will begin in Hungary and Slovakia, where he will raise those concerns and the importance of promoting democracy and the rule of law to counter Beijing and Moscow’s efforts to pull the countries away from the West and sow National security adviser John Bolton, left; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump talk in the Oval Office last week. Pompeo left Sunday on a diplomatic mission in Central Europe, where the U.S. will address concerns over growing Russian and Chinese influence in the region. divisions in the European Union and NATO.
The centerpiece of the trip will be a conference on the future of the Middle East in Poland on Wednesday and Thursday that is expected to focus on Iran. It also will be attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the Mideast peace team senior adviser.
But in Budapest and
Bratislava on Monday and Tuesday, Pompeo will specifically point to issues related to Central Europe’s reliance on Russian energy and the presence of the Chinese high-tech telecom firm Huawei, particularly in Hungary, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. U.S. officials are troubled by Huawei’s expansion, especially in NATO member states where they believe it poses significant information security threats.
The officials said Pompeo hoped to reverse what they called a decade of U.S. disengagement in Central Europe that created a vacuum that Russia and China have exploited over the course of the past 10 years.
As Pompeo departed, the State Department said in a statement Sunday that the special representative for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, would spend the rest of February traveling to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan pushing a U.S. peace initiative. He has already visited in Europe and the Middle East as part of an extended diplomatic tour.
Khalilzad said recent talks with the Taliban produced a tentative framework for an agreement but the negotiations are far from finished. “We are in the early stage of a protracted process,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”
On Sunday in southern Afghanistan, at least 10 civilians were killed and several others wounded during U.S. airstrikes over the weekend, local officials and residents in Helmand province said.
Two residents of the Sangin district of Helmand said eight members of a single family were killed by airstrikes in one house and two more in a nearby structure, among them women and children. Mohammad Hasim Alokozai, a member of parliament from Helmand, put the death toll higher, saying that 14 civilians were killed and six wounded in the two houses.
Sgt. 1st Class Debra Richardson, a U.S. military spokeswoman in Kabul, said that U.S. aircraft had conducted airstrikes in the province Friday night and early Saturday morning, but that she could not say whether civilians had been killed. She said airstrikes were called in after a Taliban insurgent fired at Afghan and American forces from a civilian area.