Seoul told not to worry about Trump’s $5BBefore recent cost-sharing talks began, U.S. officials told Korea via a high-level dialogue channel that Washington doesn’t intend to force Seoul to pay $5 billion for the upkeep of U.S. troops here in their next agreement, multiple diplomatic sources exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday.
The sources, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity, did not specify precisely who from the Donald Trump administration relayed the message, but the message was said to have been conveyed to Seoul before Sept. 24, when the first round of the ongoing cost-sharing talks began.
Jitters have been running high in Korea that Washington would ask Seoul to pay as much as $5 billion in the next Special Measures Agreement (SMA) deal, which amounts to about 5.8 trillion won. Under this year’s 10th SMA, which expires in December, Seoul agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won ($888.6 million), which was 8.2 percent more than what Korea spent in the 9th SMA.
“A U.S. official told us that U.S. President Donald Trump wanted Korea to pay nearly $5 billion, [but the official] added that it was ‘his idea,’” a diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo. The U.S. official, according to the source, suggested Seoul and Washington draw up two to three cost-sharing plans and make Trump and President Moon Jae-in make the final decision together.
Based on this conversation, the source said it was the Korean Foreign Ministry’s understanding that the United States and Korea would work toward making several cost-sharing plans that require Seoul paying less than $5 billion.
When Chung Eui-yong, head of the Blue House National Security Office, visited Washington last month to meet new U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, the two were said to have discussed a wide range of bilateral issues, including the amount Seoul would pay in the next cost-sharing deal.
“It’s not that the U.S. State Department came up with $5 billion by calculating how much Seoul needs to pay for the upkeep of American forces in Korea and for the United States’ defense over the country,” a Korean government official said. “Trump was the one who first suggested Seoul pay $5 billion, and the State Department wrote out a bill ultimately meeting that amount.”
A different diplomatic source said the Pentagon was against the idea of forcing Seoul to pay $5 billion when Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton drafted a proposal with the State Department and U.S. Defense Department, saying some Pentagon officials expressed opposition to “asking too much from an ally.”
A Korean military source said some people in the Pentagon complained by saying American troops weren’t “mercenaries.”
Even so, Park Won-gon, a professor of international studies at Handong Global University in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, said Seoul must come up with a multi-faceted negotiation strategy that specifies the benefits Washington has been receiving by keeping its troops in Korea.
“$5 billion is President Trump’s own way of negotiating,” said Park. Seoul will eventually end up paying Washington “less than $5 billion, but there’s a high chance that the amount will settle at a level just enough to save face for him.”
The next round of cost-sharing talks for the forthcoming 11th SMA is expected to be held later this month in Seoul. The first round of talks was held on Sept. 24 and 25, and the second round was held on Oct. 23 and 24.
After the second round wrapped up, multiple sources told the JoongAng Ilbo that the United States pressed Korea to pay at least $100 million for the temporary dispatch of U.S. strategic assets around the Korean Peninsula, but the Korean Foreign Ministry denied the accounts, saying Washington did not make such demands.
BY LEE CHUL-JAE, LEE YU-JUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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