1-year deal on troop cost-shar­ing

United States agrees to pre­lim­i­nary plan ahead of North Korean sum­mit

The Mercury News - - News - By Si­mon Denyer and Min Joo Kim

TOKYO >> The United States and South Korea signed a “pre­lim­i­nary” deal to share the cost of the U.S. troop pres­ence in the coun­try Sun­day, re­mov­ing an ir­ri­tant be­tween the al­lies ahead of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sum­mit meet­ing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But the deal was a stop­gap agree­ment, cov­er­ing only one year, in­stead of the usual five-year-term, af­ter long-drawn-out ne­go­ti­a­tions caused by Trump’s deter­mi­na­tion to get Seoul to pay sub­stan­tially more.

The U.S. had ini­tially de­manded a dou­bling of the South Korean con­tri­bu­tion, but in the end had to set­tle for a rise of 8.2 per­cent for the first year, equiv­a­lent to the rise in Seoul’s to­tal de­fense bud­get this year. South Korea has agreed to pay around $920 mil­lion, up from around the $853,000 a year it paid the U.S. from 2014 to 2018.

The United States and South Korea ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with the deal, known as the Spe­cial Mea­sures Agree­ment or SMA.

“The United States gov­ern­ment re­al­izes that Korea does a lot for our al­liance and for peace and sta­bil­ity in this re­gion and the SMA is only a small part of that,” said Ti­mothy Betts, the U.S. deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for plans, pro­grams and op­er­a­tions, who led the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“But it’s an im­por­tant part and we are pleased that our con­sul­ta­tions re­sulted in an agree­ment that I think will strengthen trans­parency and strengthen and deepen our co­op­er­a­tion in the al­liance.”

The sign­ing was la­beled “pre­lim­i­nary” since the deal still needs to be rat­i­fied by South Korea’s leg­is­la­ture, but For­eign Min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha ex­pressed op­ti­mism that it would be passed.

“I think the re­sponse so far has been quite pos­i­tive,” she told Betts. “Of course there are some points of crit­i­cism as well and we will have to deal with them, but I think at this point we were able to close the gap on the to­tal amount.”

The two sides held 10 rounds of ne­go­ti­a­tions last year, fail­ing to reach agree­ment be­fore the pre­vi­ous deal ex­pired at the end of 2018.

They agreed to set up a work­ing group to han­dle cost-shar­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions in the fu­ture, ad­ding that if no new agree­ment is reached by the end of this year, “to pre­vent the ab­sence of an agree­ment, the two sides can ex­tend the pre­vi­ous agree­ment upon mu­tual con­sent.”

Op­po­si­tion con­ser­va­tive law­maker Won Yoo-chul said the two sides had reached a “wise” and rea­son­able com­pro­mise.

“It is for­tu­nate that the deal was reached be­fore the up­com­ing Trump-Kim sum­mit in Viet­nam, so that the troops card is off the table,” he said. “De­fense cost-shar­ing is an is­sue be­tween us two al­lies, not a bar­gain­ing chip with North Korea.”

But Won, a mem­ber of the par­lia­men­tary for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee, warned that the short-term na­ture of the deal could cause fric­tion.

“With rene­go­ti­a­tion ev­ery year, the two sides will go through a stand­off each time, which will look bad for the al­liance,” he said. “The al­liance be­tween two coun­tries should not be ap­proached from an eco­nomic per­spec­tive alone.”

Rul­ing party law­maker Song Young-gil said he ex­pected the United States to push harder in the next round of ne­go­ti­a­tions, so that the U.S. leader could de­clare a “win” ahead of elec­tions in 2020.

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