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U.S. presses for deployment costs

Washington asks for at least $100 million for use of strategic assets
Oct 31,2019
The United States recently pressed South Korea to pay at least $100 million, or 117 billion won, for the temporary dispatch of U.S. strategic assets around the Korean Peninsula, the JoongAng Ilbo exclusively reported Wednesday.

Citing multiple sources with knowledge of the talks, the paper said U.S. officials raised the issue late last month and again last week when both countries met for their first and second rounds of discussions on renewing the bilateral Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a cost-sharing deal that defines how much each country pays for the stationing of 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea.

Both countries launched discussions late last month to renew the deal, which is set to expire at the end of this year. The first round of talks was held on Sept. 24 and 25, and the second round was held on Oct. 23 and 24.

In both meetings, multiple sources who spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo said the United States asked South Korea to pay for the deployment of their strategic assets flying near the Korean Peninsula, saying their flights were defending the South.

U.S. strategic assets include long-range bombers, nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. South Korea currently does not pay for their deployments.

The United States was said to have relayed to the South Korean interlocutors during the recent meetings that a B-1B strategic bomber flew near the South five to six times last year from the U.S. territory of Guam in the Western Pacific, which is about 1,900 miles southeast of South Korea.

It is not precisely known how much Washington spends for a single flight of a B-1B from Guam to South Korea, but CBS News reported last year that it takes about $96,000 in operational costs for it to fly for one hour, which would mean a flight from Guam to Korea and back, which takes about 13 hours, would cost nearly $1.2 million.

Last year when Seoul and Washington were holding discussions for the current SMA, the United States was said to have asked the South to pay about 35 billion won for deployment costs of their strategic assets, which Seoul refused, saying the SMA only covers U.S. troops stationed here.

On why Washington suddenly decided to increase their deployment cost demand by more than three-fold this year, a Seoul government official told the JoongAng Ilbo that the United States was increasing nearly all the demands they made last year by more than three times to consequently force the South to pay $5 billion in the next SMA agreement, which amounts to about 5.8 trillion won.

U.S. bombers used to fly directly over South Korean soil in 2017 when North Korea was testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and a nuclear weapon, but their flight routes changed in 2018 as Washington and Pyongyang entered denuclearization talks, local military officials say. Last year, no U.S. strategic weapon was directly deployed in South Korean waters or airspace, nor have they been used in combined military exercises between the two countries.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, PARK YONG-HAN AND LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]