South Korean officials on Sunday signed a deal to cover more of the cost of U.S. troops over the coming year after President Donald Trump strongly urged them to do so.
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 U.S. dollars.
South Korean officials described the new deal as a compromise with President Trump’s request for a “huge increase.” The officials stressed the importance of “a strong South Korea-U.S. alliance and the need for a stable stationing of U.S. troops” and said the response from most of South Korea’s government to the revised arrangement has been “positive so far.”
“It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful process,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said of negotiations with the Americans.
“United States government realizes that Korea does a lot for our alliance and peace and stability in the region,” said chief U.S. negotiator Timothy Betts. “We are very pleased our consultations resulted in agreement that will strengthen transparency and deepen our cooperation and the alliance.”
The new spending agreement lasts for only one year, while previous agreements lasted for five years. Prior to the spending increase, South Korea covered about 40 percent of the cost of constructing and maintaining U.S. military facilities. 70 percent of South Korea’s support covers the salaries of 8.700 South Koreans who provide administrative and technical services for the 28,500 American troops stationed in their country.
According to Reuters, South Korean officials wanted to cap spending at one trillion won (the new total works out to 1.03 trillion) and sign a three-year agreement, while the U.S. wanted 1.4 trillion won. Ten rounds of negotiations were required over the span of a year to hammer out the new deal.
South Korea resisted increased spending but was concerned President Trump might put U.S. troop withdrawal on the table, or offer to scale back joint military exercises with the South even further, when he meets with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Vietnam later this month – especially if the second Trump-Kim summit paves the way for a formal declaration of peace in the Korean War. South Korean officials also worried that local workers might lose their jobs if the U.S. decided to cut costs at its military facilities.
President Trump stated last week that he has no short-term plans to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea but left the possibility open for the future.
“Maybe someday,” he said in a CBS News interview. “I mean, who knows. But, you know, it’s very expensive to keep troops there.”