South Korea, U.S. sign cost-shar­ing deal for Amer­i­can troops

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - WEATHER -

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA >> 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 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, which re­quires South Korea to pay about 1.04 tril­lion won ($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 1950-1953 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 like “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 some 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 United States at the same time as ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea to de­prive it of its nu­clear weapons hit a stale­mate. 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 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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 greater a share of the fi­nan­cial bur­dens of sup­port­ing U.S. sol­diers de­ployed there.

South Korean me­dia ear­lier re­ported that Trump de­manded South Korea dou­ble its spend­ing for the U.S. mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment, be­fore his govern­ment even­tu­ally asked for 1.13 tril­lion won ($1 bil­lion). Seoul’s For­eign Min­istry said the U.S. had called for a sharp in­crease in South Korean spend­ing but didn’t elab­o­rate.

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

Trump’s top en­voy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, vis­ited Py­ongyang last week to work out de­tails of the up­com­ing sum­mit. Af­ter be­ing briefed by Biegun about his Py­ongyang trip, South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial of­fice said Sun­day that U.S. and North Korean of­fi­cials plan to meet again the week of Feb. 17 in an uniden­ti­fied Asian coun­try.

The U.S. mil­i­tary ar­rived in South Korea to dis­arm Ja­pan, which col­o­nized the Korean Penin­sula from 191045, fol­low­ing its World War II de­feat. Most U.S. troops were with­drawn in 1949 but they re­turned the next year to fight along­side South Korea in the Korean War.

AP PHOTO/LEE JIN-MAN

South Korean pro­test­ers hold ban­ners dur­ing a rally Sun­day as po­lice of­fi­cers stand guard near the For­eign Min­istry in Seoul, South Korea.

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