Breaking News Emails
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea and the United States struck a new deal Sunday on how much Seoul should pay for the U.S. military presence on its soil, after previous rounds of failed negotiations caused worries about their decades-long alliance.
Last year, South Korea provided about $830 million, roughly 40 percent of the cost of the deployment of 28,500 U.S. soldiers whose presence is meant to deter aggression from North Korea. President Donald Trump has said South Korea should pay more.
On Sunday, chief negotiators from the two countries signed a new cost-sharing plan, which requires South Korea to pay about $924 million in 2019, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"We realize, the United States government realizes that Korea does a lot for our alliance and peace and stability in the region," chief U.S. negotiator Timothy Betts said in Seoul. "We are very pleased our consultations resulted in agreement that will strengthen transparency and deepen our cooperation and the alliance."
The allies had failed to reach a new cost-sharing plan during some 10 rounds of talks. A five-year 2014 deal that covered South Korea's payment last year had expired at the end of 2018.
Unlike past agreements this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months.
"It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful process," South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at a meeting before another official from the foreign ministry initialed the agreement.
While acknowledging lingering domestic criticism of the new deal and the need for parliamentary approval, Kang said the response had "been positive so far."
Some conservatives in South Korea voiced concerns over a weakening alliance with the United States amid a stalemate in negotiations with North Korea to deprive it of its nuclear weapons. They said Trump might use the failed military cost-sharing negotiations as an excuse to pull back some of U.S. troops in South Korea, as a bargaining chip in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump told CBS' "Face the Nation" last Sunday that he has no plans to withdraw troops from South Korea.
Trump announced last week that he will sit down with Kim for a second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam in late February. Their first summit in Singapore last June resulted in Kim's vague commitment to "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a term that his propaganda machine previously used when it argued it would only denuclearize after the U.S. withdraws its troops from South Korea.
The U.S. military arrived in South Korea to disarm Japan, which colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45, following its World War II defeat. Most U.S. troops were withdrawn in 1949 but they returned the next year to fight alongside South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korea began paying for the U.S. military deployment in the early 1990s, after rebuilding its war-devastated economy. The big U.S. 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.