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Gov’t says it is seeking solution to U.S. troops

July 04,2017
The Korean Ministry of National Defense said on Monday it is working toward a “reasonable” solution to the issue of maintaining U.S. troops here, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s claim that Korea should pay a larger portion of the cost.

Moon Sang-gyun, the Korean Defense Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing Monday, “The U.S. Forces Korea’s contributions to defense on the Korean Peninsula, our financial capability, the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, and also enabling conditions for stability in the stationing of USFK will all be comprehensively taken into consideration to enable negotiations to set burden-sharing at a reasonable standard.”

Trump said during the joint press briefing with President Moon Jae-in Friday in Washington after their summit, “We are working together to ensure fair burden-sharing in support of the U.S. military presence in South Korea.” He upped pressure on Seoul ahead of negotiations later this year to decide a defense cost-sharing plan.

“Burden-sharing is a very important factor,” Trump also said at the joint conference, which is “becoming more and more prevalent, certainly in this administration.”

This marks the first time Trump has publicly raised the issue of Korea paying more for the stationing of U.S. troops since he took office in January, amid concern in Seoul over upcoming cost-sharing negotiations.

During his presidential campaign, Trump took an “America First” stance and has urged for U.S. allies to pay their fair share of the cost in defense.

While he has not raised the issue to Seoul directly since taking office, in late April Trump said Korea should foot the bill for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) battery, which he said was worth $1 billion.

“I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid,” Trump told Reuters in an interview soon after the installation of key components of the U.S.-led antimissile system at a golf course in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, in late April. “It’s a billion-dollar system.”

Analysts interpreted such remarks as indicating that the Trump administration may pressure Seoul over the cost-sharing issue in the bilateral Special Measures Agreement (SMA) negotiations, which are expected to begin later this year.

A U.S. Congressional Research Service report released on May 23 pointed out that “many analysts think that the Trump administration will demand that South Korea increase its cost-sharing payments,” though it already pays roughly half the cost of stationing troops in the country.

It added that the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea and cost-sharing for defense will play a large role in their bilateral agenda, and that such pressure could come up during negotiations over renewing the cost-sharing SMA according to the commitment of the bilateral Mutual Defense Treaty of 1953.

In 2014, Seoul and Washington struck a five-year cost-sharing plan for 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea. Under the plan, South Korea pays about 920 billion won ($800 million) in annual costs. The current agreement will expire in 2018 and a new agreement, once negotiated, would go into effect in 2019.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]