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US pushing for $1.3b in defense cost-sharing talks

US President Donald Trump (AFP-Yonhap)
US President Donald Trump (AFP-Yonhap)

The defense cost-sharing negotiations between Seoul and Washington appear likely to continue, with the US reportedly proposing a raise more than three times higher than South Korea’s offer.

According to a local daily, the Trump administration has proposed that Korea pay about $1.3 billion.

Citing an unnamed source, local daily Dong-A Ilbo reported that the US has proposed that Seoul’s share be raised to the “$1.3 billion level,” which would be about 49 percent up from the previous figure based on the “exchange rate used by the Trump administration.”

In comparison, Seoul is said to have proposed an increase of 13 percent, which was rejected by the US in March.

While the figure suggested in the report has not been confirmed, the US has been raising the pressure on Seoul to complete the negotiations, with US President Donald Trump claiming in a recent interview that Seoul has agreed to pay more. In the interview with Reuters in April, Trump claimed that Seoul has “agreed to pay a lot of money.”

Trump has also stated a number of times that as a wealthy nation, South Korea’s share of the US Forces Korea’s costs should be higher, while top US officials have called for flexibility on Seoul’s part.

Seoul, however, appears unwilling to go up on its offer of a 13 percent increase from last year, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha stating last month that the offer is the highest possible.

Kang’s telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday appears unlikely to have any impact on the negotiations. According to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, Kang and Pompeo discussed a number of issues including the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and defense cost negotiations. The conversation on the matter of defense cost negotiations, however, is said to have been general, with the two agreeing to work on wrapping up the talks in the near future.

The matter of defense costs was not mentioned in the US Department of State’s press release on the conversation, with the statement saying only that Kang and Pompeo discussed the two countries’ response to the pandemic, and reaffirmed the strength of the alliance.

By Choi He-suk (