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(2nd LD) U.S. has asked S. Korea to pay $1.3 bln in shared defense costs: official

All News 06:47 May 08, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with Trump's remarks in paras 7-8)
By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, May 7 (Yonhap) -- The United States has asked South Korea to pay US$1.3 billion a year for the stationing of American troops on the peninsula, an increase of nearly 50 percent from last year, a senior Trump administration official said Thursday.

The new figure represents a cutback from the $5 billion initially sought by the U.S., but almost four times the increase South Korea offered in its latest proposal.

The official told Yonhap News Agency the U.S. request was its "final offer" and "quite reasonable."

This photo, provided by Seoul's foreign ministry, shows Jeong Eun-bo (L), South Korea's chief negotiator for the Special Measures Agreement, and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, ahead of negotiations in Los Angeles on March 17, 2020. (No resales. No archiving) (Yonhap)

"Compared to our original request of $5 billion, we came down so much!" the official said on condition of anonymity. "And what did the South Korean government do? Nothing."

The official was referring to South Korea's offer to increase its contribution by 13 percent from the $870 million it agreed to pay under last year's cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement.

That offer was rejected by President Donald Trump, leaving the two countries at an impasse in their negotiations. Seoul insists that it has made its best offer.

Trump still appeared confident that South Korea will pay more.

"South Korea has agreed to pay substantial money to us, which we appreciate very much," he told reporters at the White House Thursday.

According to a U.S. government source, the State Department came up with $1.3 billion by calculating the eventual amount South Korea would pay in the fifth year of a multi-year agreement.

The first year would see an increase of 13 percent, as offered by the South Koreans, with successive years seeing an increase of 7-8 percent in line with annual increases in Seoul's defense budget, the source said on condition of anonymity.

Washington is asking that Seoul pay that amount upfront instead of in the fifth year, the source added.

Some 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The allies have shared the cost of maintaining the troop presence, including through Seoul's payments toward the salaries of Korean employees with U.S. Forces Korea, construction projects and logistical support.

On April 1, USFK placed some 4,000 Korean employees on unpaid leave.

A State Department spokesperson said the countries have failed to reach an "equitable burden-sharing agreement" despite the efforts of both sides.

"During the course of negotiations, we have adjusted and compromised. We have shown significant flexibility in recent weeks in order to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. We're looking for further compromise from the Republic of Korea Government as well," the spokesperson said, adding that the longstanding U.S. view is that South Korea "can and should contribute more of its fair share."

hague@yna.co.kr
(END)

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