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S. Korea to up its financial burden for U.S. troops by 8.2 pct

Diplomacy 14:36 February 10, 2019

SEOUL, Feb. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea signed a deal with the United States on Sunday to raise its direct spending on the alliance by 8.2 percent this year.

Top negotiators of the two sides inked the contract in Seoul, under which South Korea will pay 1.03 trillion won (US$890 million) for the operation of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), up from 960 billion won in 2018.

It was formally called a "preliminary signing," as domestic procedures, including parliamentary ratification in South Korea, are required. The U.S. government does not need congressional approval for the accord.

South Korea's defense budgets this year have hiked 8.2 percent from 2018, but inflation has remained at 1.5 percent.

The deal has put an end to monthslong disputes on money between the allies and cleared a hurdle for coordination ahead of a second summit between Pyongyang and Washington to be held in Hanoi on Feb. 27-28.

Veteran diplomats -- Chang Won-sam of South Korea and Timothy Betts of the U.S. -- had 10 rounds of face-to-face talks throughout last year. But they failed to strike a deal on how much Seoul would contribute. The previous agreement signed in 2014 expired at the end of 2018.

The two sides continued negotiations in the new year and reached the one-year contract. South Korea wanted it to be valid for three to five years, but the Trump administration pushed for a one-year deal, saying a comprehensive review of defense-cost sharing with allies is still under way, according to a diplomatic source.

South Korea has shared the financial burden for USFK since the early 1990s. The funds are used to cover the wages of South Korean workers at USFK bases, construction and logistical support.

In a report released last May, the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), a state-funded think tank, said South Korea spent more than 5 trillion won in 2015 alone for the direct contribution to the USFK and provision of land and facilities, as well as tax benefits.

South Korea is also a major buyer of U.S. weapon systems.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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