South Korea signs new deal to pay USA more for troop presence

Kang Kyung-wha South Korean Foreign Minister, says negotiations for new deal'long but successful

Kang Kyung-wha South Korean Foreign Minister, says negotiations for new deal'long but successful

The provisional contract, known as the Special Measures Agreement, was inked almost six weeks after the previous five-year accord expired.

A senior South Korean ruling party legislator said last month that negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a "sudden, unacceptable" demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year.

The new deal, signed on Sunday, awaiting parliament approval in Seoul, would boost South Korea's contribution from 960 billion ($850m) won in 2018 to 1.03 trillion won ($890m). Seoul said they would pay $924 million this year compared to $830 million in recent years. America's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies have boosted military spending by $100 billion after similar demands from Trump.

Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months. The SMA will take effect after National Assembly ratifies it around April. The first-ever DPRK-U.S. summit was held between Kim and Trump in Singapore in June a year ago.

Before signing the pact Sunday, US negotiator Timothy Betts met with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

Most US troops were withdrawn in 1949 but they returned the next year to fight alongside South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean war. "We are very pleased that our consultations resulted in an agreement, and I think that will deepen our cooperation in the alliance". President Donald Trump has said South Korea should pay more. He also has insisted that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members increase their contributions, and the issue is expected to arise soon in Japan in talks on funding the 50,000 US troops based there.

United States Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines have been stationed in South Korea for over half a century, and the requirement for a robust alliance has never been greater. But he insists that troop numbers are not part of the equation in nuclear talks with the North.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the USA has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War.

However, he added "maybe someday", reiterating that he would like to save the money.

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"If the cost of increasing the defense spending to match whatever firepower the USA forces were able to provide on the Korean Peninsula is larger than the increase [in cost-sharing], it makes no mathematical sense for South Korea to not contribute more to the cost-sharing agreement", Kim said.

"South Korea has to think about the cost involved in keeping the deterrence at the level they would like, while the threat is clearly present", James Kim, global relations expert at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, told Sputnik Monday.

After the June meeting, Trump announced a halt to joint military exercises with South Korea, saying they were expensive and paid for mostly by the United States.

North Korea hates the drills, which it considers a rehearsal for an invasion. The big USA military presence in South Korea is a symbol of the countries' alliance, forged in blood during the war, but also a source of long-running anti-American sentiments.

South Korea insists it pays a fair share of the some $2 billion per year needed to keep the troops in the country, with funds mainly used for salaries of almost 9,000 local employees who provide food and administrative services, and other logistical needs. Yonhap said the US had previously demanded 1.13 trillion won ($1 billion) from South Korea.

The U.S. military also enjoys less tangible benefits, including rent-free land for its bases and an exemption that allows government-operated vehicles to use expressways toll-free.

Late a year ago, the United States military warned Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal was agreed.

The allies also missed the December 31 deadline in 2013, but they managed to reach a deal a few weeks later when South Korea agreed to increase its contribution by 5.8 percent, with a 4-percent cap on the inflation rate.

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