Presidential office denies sharp hikes in upcoming military cost-sharing deal with US


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South Korea’s presidential office said Wednesday a possible sharp increase in Seoul’s contribution for the costs of stationing US Forces Korea has not been mutually agreed to by the two countries, following US President Donald Trump’s remark that the cost burden would keep growing.

Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said Trump’s remark should not be treated as “an established fact,” which came only days after the two countries signed a preliminary deal for defense cost sharing, raising South Korea’s share by 8.2 percent. 

US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Feb. 12. (AFP-Yonhap)

“In the latest negotiations, (the sides) set the duration of their agreement at one year. But (the agreement) could be extended by one year if the two sides agree to do so,” Kim said during a press briefing.

“Therefore, the two sides may decide to keep it at the current level after reviewing the need for an increase.”

Under the new one-year deal inked Sunday, South Korea will pay about 1.03 trillion won ($890 million), compared to 960 billion won last year, to cover the costs of maintaining the 28,500 troops of US Forces Korea in 2019.

In a cabinet meeting held Tuesday, Trump said Seoul has agreed to pay an additional $500 million as part of the cost sharing.

“As an example, as you know, South Korea — we defend them and lose a tremendous amount of money. Billions of dollars a year defending them … they agreed to pay, yesterday, $500 million more toward their defense. It’s got to go up. It’s got to go up,” the US president said.

The figure Trump mentioned, however, differs from the additional cost South Korea will shoulder, which is $70 million based on the preliminary pact.

“Five-hundred million, with a couple of phone calls. I said, ’Why didn’t you do this before?’ They said, ‘Nobody asked,” Trump said.

It has been a bumpy road for negotiations between the allies. They had faced a wide gap between the total amount of contribution demanded by the US and that which Seoul was able to accept, as well as differences over the contract period.

South Korean negotiators insisted that the amount should not exceed 1 trillion won under a three-year contract, while the US demanded that South Korea pay $1.2 billion under a contract valid for one year.

Since 1991, the allies have held talks to decide how they should share the costs of stationing US Forces Korea here to support a stable presence and protect South Korea against military threats from North Korea. The negotiations focus on three areas: payroll, construction and logistics.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)


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