The United States signed a pre­lim­i­nary deal to share the cost of the troop pres­ence in South Korea, ahead of Trump’s sum­mit meet­ing with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SI­MON DENYER AND MIN JOO KIM si­[email protected]­post.com min­[email protected]­post.com Kim re­ported from Seoul.

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 Trump’s up­com­ing 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, af­ter drawn-out ne­go­ti­a­tions caused by Trump’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to get Seoul to pay sub­stan­tially more.

The United States had ini­tially de­manded a dou­bling of the South Korean con­tri­bu­tion, but in the end had to set­tle for an in­crease 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 1.0389 tril­lion won, or around $920 mil­lion, up from the 960 bil­lion won a year it paid 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, 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” be­cause the deal needs to be rat­i­fied by South Korea’s leg­is­la­ture. For­eign Min­is­ter Kang Kyung-wha ex­pressed op­ti­mism that it would be ap­proved.

“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, stip­u­lat­ing 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 cost­shar­ing 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 the two sides had lit­tle choice but to reach a deal be­fore the sum­mit. He said he ex­pects the United States to push harder in the next round of ne­go­ti­a­tions, so that the pres­i­dent can de­clare a “win” ahead of elec­tions in 2020.

“The way Wash­ing­ton views the al­liance has changed since Trump took of­fice,” he said. “With Trump’s iso­la­tion­ist pur­suits, the United States is not tak­ing the role of global policeman any­more.”

The deal has also been closely watched in Ja­pan, which is next in line in Trump’s cam­paign against what he sees as “freerid­ers” tak­ing ad­van­tage of U.S. de­fense spend­ing.

Al­though se­nior mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion have re­peat­edly tried to con­vince Trump that the United States gains enor­mous na­tional se­cu­rity ben­e­fits by sta­tion­ing troops in Ja­pan and South Korea, the pres­i­dent is de­ter­mined to get more from both coun­tries, espe­cially be­cause both run trade sur­pluses with the United States.

South Korea hosts about 28,500 U.S. troops on more than 20 sites, while Ja­pan hosts around 54,000, about half of them on the is­land of Ok­i­nawa.

Michael Bo­sack, a spe­cial ad­viser at the Yoko­suka Coun­cil on Asia-Pa­cific Stud­ies in Ja­pan, said the agree­ment with South Korea would re­as­sure U.S. al­lies that a deal is pos­si­ble with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. But he warned that U.S. brinkman­ship tac­tics have al­ready fu­eled doubts about the coun­try’s com­mit­ment to its al­lies.

“While in the short-term, this may mean al­lies pay more for things like cost-shar­ing mea­sures, in the long-term it erodes trust in U.S. se­cu­rity guar­an­tees, which bears far more sig­nif­i­cant costs,” he said.

If the United States is seen as “ex­tor­tion­ist” in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, it could un­der­mine pub­lic sup­port for the al­liance in South Korea, he said.

Ja­pan is due to be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions over de­fense cost-shar­ing at the end of this year or early next year. Tokyo will ar­gue that it is any­thing but a “free-rider,” espe­cially be­cause it is mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant pur­chases of F-35s and the Aegis Ashore mis­sile de­fense sys­tem from the United States. But Bo­sack said those pur­chases won’t show up di­rectly in the troop cost-shar­ing bal­ance sheet.

“If Ja­panese of­fi­cials are count­ing on those things alone to carry them through cost-shar­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions, they are in for a rude awak­en­ing,” he said.

Mean­while, the United States and North Korea plan to hold a new round of talks in an­other Asian na­tion next week, as they pre­pare for the Trump-Kim sum­mit, South Korea’s pres­i­den­tial of­fice an­nounced Sun­day.

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