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Thaad cost may fall to Seoul: Defense minister

Feb 22,2018
Washington has been intensifying its pressure on Seoul over trade and could now be turning that attention to security negotiations as the top Korean defense chief noted Tuesday that Washington may ask Seoul to cover the cost of keeping a U.S. antimissile system in Korea by using funds set aside to maintain U.S. troops stationed here.

“There is such a possibility, so we are planning a strategy,” said Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo, speaking to the National Assembly’s defense committee. He was answering a question by a lawmaker about whether Washington might dip into the bilateral burden-sharing fund to cover the cost of keeping the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) in Seongju, North Gyeongsang.

The Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a multi-year cost-sharing deal under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), establishes what Korea must contribute to the non-personnel costs associated with keeping U.S. troops in the country.

Since 1991, the two countries have conducted routine negotiations to decide what Korea’s financial contribution should be. Under the current five-year agreement set to expire on Dec. 31, Korea has agreed to pay about 920 billion won ($856 million) in annual costs.

The Moon Jae-in administration has been preparing for the SMA negotiations, which start later this year.

About the cost of Thaad, the Korean Ministry of National Defense has said until now that the two sides had agreed the United States would cover the cost of its deployment while Korea would provide the land and infrastructure. But Song’s remarks indicate that the Defense Ministry expects the United States to request Korea to pay the cost of maintaining Thaad.

A Defense Ministry official said this does not mean Korea will have to pay separately for Thaad, but that “the United States may take this into consideration in the defense cost-sharing negotiations this year and demand a larger payment [from Korea].”

But a government official here said, “The United States cannot ask Korea to bear the cost of a weapon purchased and operated by the U.S. Defense Department such as Thaad.”

The Trump administration has intensified trade protectionist measures since the beginning of the year, including slapping higher tariffs on washing machines and solar panels. Seoul and Washington are also involved in negotiations over their bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).

President Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters in April 2017, “I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid… Why are we paying a billion dollars?”

But U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster responded later that month that the United States will pay for the Thaad system, telling Fox News, “What I told our South Korean counterpart is, until any renegotiation, that the deal’s in place. We’ll adhere to our word.” He added that what the president “asked us to do is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden-sharing, responsibility-sharing.”

BY SARAH KIM, LEE CHUL-JAE [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]