By Lee Haye-ah
WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Defense Department has estimated it will cost nearly US$4.5 billion to station troops in South Korea in fiscal year 2020, suggesting why President Donald Trump reportedly seeks $5 billion from Seoul next year.
According to the Pentagon's budget estimate drawn up in March, the total payment toward military personnel, operations, maintenance and family housing in South Korea amounts to $4.46 billion in the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, 2020.
In fiscal year 2019, the number was $4.43 billion, while in 2018, it was $4.32 billion.
Trump may have had those figures in mind when he balked at the scope of the U.S. defense commitment to South Korea in an interview in January with author and former presidential adviser Doug Wead.
In his new book, "Inside Trump's White House: The Real Story of His Presidency," published Tuesday, Wead said the president asked him if he knew how much the U.S. was spending to "defend" South Korea.
"Four and half billion dollars a year," Trump told Wead. "Figure that one out?"
The comment serves as a reminder that Trump believes South Korea should pay more for the stationing of 28,500 U.S. troops in the country, an issue that has emerged as a key challenge facing the decades-old alliance.
The two sides have been negotiating the renewal of a cost-sharing deal for next year amid reports that Washington seeks a more than five-fold increase in Seoul's contributions to $5 billion.
However, the current deal, or Special Measures Agreement, does not require Seoul to pay toward the categories included in the Pentagon's budget estimate.
It requires Seoul to pay only for Korean civilians hired by U.S. Forces Korea, the construction of military facilities to maintain the allies' readiness and other forms of support.
Meanwhile, reports have said the U.S. has asked that under the new SMA South Korea also cover expenditures related to supporting American troops' families and conducting combined military exercises.
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