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Trump may affect U.S.-Korea cost-sharing talks

Dec 27,2018
U.S. President Donald Trump is pressuring allied countries to pay more in defense burden-sharing, which may impact ongoing negotiations with Seoul to renew a bilateral deal on the costs of stationing U.S. troops in South Korea.

Trump, on Tuesday, held a video conference in the White House Oval Office in which he demanded that U.S. allies pay more defense costs.

“We don’t want to be subsidizing rich countries at the disadvantage to us,” Trump was quoted as saying in a White House pool report. “That makes me a little bit different than any other president, because nobody used to ask these questions.”

“Right now, we are the policeman of the world and we’re paying for it,” said Trump. “And we can be the policeman of the world, but other countries have to help us.”

The remarks came after Defense Secretary James Mattis announced he would resign and the Trump administration said it will remove U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

On a similar note on Monday, Trump wrote on Twitter: “We are substantially subsidizing the Militaries of many VERY rich countries all over the world, while at the same time these countries take total advantage of the US, and our TAXPAYERS, on Trade. General Mattis did not see this as a problem. I DO, and it is being fixed!”

Trump on Sunday announced that Mattis will leave the post on Jan. 1, though the defense secretary had intended to step down at the end of February.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will take over as acting defense secretary after Mattis departs the Pentagon next week. Mattis, a former four-star general, has not always seen eye-to-eye with Trump on defense policy. He has also been a steady proponent of diplomacy with North Korea, even during escalated military tensions last year.

Seoul and Washington are in the midst of negotiating renewing their Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a multi-year cost-sharing deal under the Status of Forces Agreement set to expire at the end of this year. Washington is demanding that Seoul pay significantly more in a new deal.

The two sides failed to come up with a deal in their latest round of talks for the 10th SMA earlier this month and will continue negotiations even after the current agreement expires on Dec. 31.

Trump, however, has previously insinuated he could withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea altogether.

In a May 4, 2016, interview with CNN, presidential candidate Trump said, “We spend many times what any other country spends on the military. But it’s not really for us. We’re defending other countries. So all I’m saying is this: They have to pay.”

He continued, “And you know what? I’m prepared to walk, and if they have to defend themselves against North Korea, where you have a maniac over there […] If they don’t respect us enough to take care of us properly, then you know what’s going to have to happen? It’s very simple. They’re going to have to defend themselves.”

Some experts worry that U.S. troops stationed in Korea will continue to be an issue even after a new deal is struck.

A high-level source in Washington said Wednesday, “Reaching a compromise on the cost-sharing level through negotiations between South Korea and the United States is an issue, but a bigger problem is the possibility that President Trump could say afterward that he is not satisfied [with the deal], raising the issue of U.S. troops stationed in Korea again.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Voice of America in a recent interview that if Trump believes that the current defense cost-sharing deal is not fair, he will try to negotiate a better agreement.

“I think the president is a businessman and he’s a negotiator,” said Rounds. “He can’t get South Korea to do more unless he asks them to do more.”

BY SARAH KIM, KIM HYUN-KI [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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