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Trump crows about Korea caving

Feb 14,2019
U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday during a cabinet meeting in Washington that South Korea will pay even more for U.S. soldiers to protect it over the years, raising concerns after Seoul already promised to pay more in 2019 last Sunday.

While boastfully taking credit for the renewed cost-sharing deal, Trump said Seoul agreed to pay $500 million more than under a previous deal - which perplexed South Korean media because Seoul’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had announced it agreed to pay only $70 million more under the newly signed one-year agreement.

The Foreign Ministry denied Trump’s calculation Wednesday, saying Seoul has agreed to pay $70 million more this year than last year.

“We have a long way to go, frankly, as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said Tuesday, “especially where we make the good trade deals and make the good military deals.”

Citing South Korea as an example, Trump said the United States was losing a “tremendous amount of money” trying to defend it. Trump continued that, at his request, Seoul agreed to pay $500 million more “with a couple of phone calls.”

He went on, “I said, ‘Why didn’t you do this before?’ They said, ‘Nobody asked.’ So it’s got to go up. It’s got to go up.”

Trump said South Korea was costing the United States $5 billion a year and that the South was paying about $500 million and agreed to pay $500 million more, adding Washington had to “do better than that” to raise Seoul’s share of cost.

“Over the years, it will start going up, and they will be terrific,” he said.

South Korea and the United States agreed last Sunday that Seoul will pay 1.03 trillion won ($916 million) for the upkeep of 28,500 U.S. forces in South Korea (USFK), 8.2 percent more than what it spent last year, which was 960.2 billion won, which is about $856 million. It was the first time Seoul has ever agreed to pay above the 1 trillion won mark as Trump urges allies across the world to pay more for hosting U.S. bases in their countries.

The 8.2-percent hike reflected South Korea’s own year-on-year defense budget increase.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said the deal would be valid for one year at Washington’s request in contrast to the previous five-year deal. But on Wednesday, Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom floated the possibility that the new deal could run for two years because both sides adopted an annex Sunday that the deal could be extended by a year under mutual agreement.

Kim added he hoped local media doesn’t assume Seoul will definitely pay more in succeeding deals.

Sunday’s signing of a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) was the result of months of wrangling between the two allies, as the United States pressed the South to pay more than $1 billion, which is about 1.13 trillion won, and asked for the deal to be renewed annually.

Seoul refused both offers and asked for three-to-five-year deals. The previous SMA expired at the end of last year with both countries failing to narrow their differences.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]