U.S. asks Korea to share cost of strategic weapons

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U.S. asks Korea to share cost of strategic weapons

Washington asked Seoul to share the cost of rotationally deploying U.S. strategic assets around the Korean Peninsula, an official with South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, stoking local fears about a higher financial burden as the Donald Trump administration is pushing allies to pay more for their defense.

The official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said Friday that the remark was made during the second round of discussions for the renewal of a cost-sharing agreement for maintaining American troops in South Korea. The meeting was held in Jeju Island last Wednesday to Thursday.

“The [South Korean] government stressed that the cost-sharing agreement was about maintaining American troops in South Korea,” the source said when asked how South Korean interlocutors replied to Washington’s request on strategic assets.

The U.S. military rotationally deploys strategic assets including nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines to the South in order to contain provocations from North Korea, with the costs covered by America.

Another South Korean government official said Seoul was opposed to the bill-splitting idea because Washington’s deployment of strategic assets serves American interests - gaining clout in Northeast Asia - and isn’t simply to protect its South Korean ally.

It is not known exactly how much the U.S. pays for the deployments, but local experts predict that it costs about 6 billion won ($5.6 million) for a strategic bomber to fly to South Korea.

On whether the U.S. also asked the South to pay more for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) missile shield in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, the Foreign Affairs Ministry source said that the issue was not brought up last week.

Both countries agreed that the U.S. would cover the cost of the Thaad deployment while the South would provide the land and infrastructure, but South Korea’s National Defense Minister Song Young-moo said last February that Seoul was “preparing a strategy” in case Washington tries to turn the table around and ask the country to cover deployment costs as well.

The Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a multi-year cost-sharing deal under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), establishes what Seoul must contribute to the non-personnel costs associated with keeping U.S. troops in the country. Since 1991, the two countries have conducted negotiations to decide Seoul’s contribution. Under the current five-year agreement set to expire on Dec. 31, Seoul has agreed to pay about 920 billion won in annual costs.

BY YOO JEE-HYE, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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