South Korea Meets Trump’s Demand to Pay More for U.S. Troops

South Korea Meets Trump’s Demand to Pay More for U.S. Troops

Officials signed a short-term agreement yesterday to boost South Korea's contribution towards the upkeep of United States troops on the peninsula, after a previous deal lapsed amid US President Donald Trump's call for the South to pay more.

Seoul contributed around 960 billion won a year ago - more than 40 percent of the total bill - financing the construction of American military facilities and paying South Korean civilians working on United States bases.

For the renewal of the pact, Seoul had previously insisted that the costs to be borne by South Korea not exceed 1 trillion won and that the deal remain valid for three to five years.

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.

Citing officials at South Korea's presidential Blue House, Yonhap also reported that South Korean President Moon Jae-in would discuss the upcoming summit with Mr Trump "soon", and that USA and North Korean officials would be meeting in an unspecified Asian country ahead of the summit.

The new arrangement, pending ratification by the South Korean parliament in April, would increase Seoul's share of the cost by a little over 8 percent to $924 million in USA dollars. On Sunday, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said the countries signed a new deal.

Seoul contributes around 70 percent to cover the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide administrative, technical and other services for the United States military.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in plans to discuss the upcoming summit with Trump soon, according to a spokesman from the Blue House. "But it's an important part and we are pleased that our consultations resulted in an agreement that I think will strengthen transparency and strengthen and deepen our cooperation in the alliance".

They said Trump might use the failed military cost-sharing negotiations as an excuse to pull back some of US troops in South Korea, as a bargaining chip in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump will travel to Hanoi, Vietnam for the summit on February 27-28. 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 USA troops based there. Most U.S. troops were withdrawn in 1949 but they returned the next year to fight alongside South Korea in the Korean War.

Trump, who has been a vocal critic of other nations failing to contribute for US military presence around the world, highlighted the cost of keeping troops in South Korea during an interview earlier this month.

"Maybe someday", he said in a CBS News interview. "But, you know, it's very expensive to keep troops there". The North and its main backer, China, also would like to see the US military presence removed from their doorstep.

The administration had demanded the South Koreans pay $1.2 billion, but Seoul balked at that amount.

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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