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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 7)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:06 November 07, 2019

US full-court press
Seoul should consider withdrawing from defense cost talks

Senior U.S. officials and diplomats have arrived in South Korea amid growing challenges to the alliance.

They are Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan Marc Knapper; James DeHart, the top negotiator in defense cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea; and Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment.

Their simultaneous visit comes at a sensitive time when Seoul and Washington are having difficulty narrowing their differences over crucial alliance issues, including Seoul's plan not to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan. The deal is scheduled to expire Nov. 22.

In particular, DeHart's visit was unexpected. With the allies set to hold a new round of negotiations in late November on how much South Korea should pay next year for the stationing and upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), speculation is rampant that the Donald Trump administration has decided to link its frustration over Seoul's GSOMIA decision to the defense cost talks. In a sense, this could be a natural course of action considering that Trump sees everything in dollar figures. His main concern about South Korea will not change: make it pay more to America.

It is hardly understandable why South Korea is continuing the defense cost-sharing talks with the U.S., especially because the U.S. has reportedly demanded a five-fold increase of the South's annual payment. Under the current deal, signed in February and valid until the year's end, Seoul would pay Washington $924 million, compared to $830 million last year. It is rumored the U.S. wants the South to pay $5 billion in the ongoing negotiations.

It would be one of the most bizarre deals in modern Korean history if the U.S. demand is accepted as such. South Korea should say no clearly, and withdraw from the talks if the U.S. sticks to its demand and thus makes it impossible to reach an agreement. It is useless to continue these talks to satisfy such an excessive, awful demand.

A recent revelation of how Trump views South Korea, made in a memoir written by Guy Snodgrass, former chief speechwriter and communications director to former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, was another indication that the U.S. leader is the biggest risk to the alliance.

According to the book, Trump described South Korea as a "major abuser" and claimed it should pay $60 billion a year for the U.S. troop presence. He asked top officials, including then-Defense Secretary Mattis and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whether the troops could be withdrawn from countries such as South Korea, Japan and Germany. If hosting the U.S. troops is so expensive and maintaining troops in South Korea is a "losing deal" as Trump describes, we should consider letting Trump pull them out.

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