No link between Gsomia and cost sharing: U.S.

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No link between Gsomia and cost sharing: U.S.

A high-ranking U.S. State Department official shot down speculation that Washington may ease pressure on getting Seoul to pay a sharply increased share for the stationing of U.S. troops despite Korea’s decision to keep its intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

David Stilwell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, welcomed Seoul’s decision to conditionally extend the General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement, or Gsomia, with Tokyo last Friday, saying it gave “a sense of optimism and hope,” in an interview with Japan’s Nikkei reported Monday.

However, on the possibility of Washington easing pressure on Seoul to pay a much higher contribution amid ongoing negotiations over their bilateral defense cost sharing due to Korea’s Gsomia decision, he said, “I don’t think the idea of linking one with the other makes sense.”

While the Gsomia termination situation has been contained for the time being, negotiating a mutually fair and reasonable cost-sharing deal by the end of the year could be another test to the steadfastness of the Korea-U.S. alliance.

Korea and the United States in September kicked off negotiations for the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) determining the cost of the stationing of some 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula, as the current one-year deal is set to expire on Dec. 31. Washington has reportedly been demanding that Seoul pay up to fivefold its current contribution. The United States is also expected to ask Japan to pay a much steeper share for their cost-sharing pact.

Stilwell said in the interview with the Nikkei conducted on Saturday in Nagoya, Japan, on the sidelines of a Group of 20 foreign ministerial meeting that Korea and the United States “have not kept pace with changes” in the economy and the regional security situation, in reference to defense cost sharing.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan also attended the G-20 meeting over the weekend and met with the Korean and Japanese foreign ministers. Stilwell and a string of the U.S. State Department and top Defense Department officials made visits to Seoul earlier this month in part to discuss Gsomia and defense cost-sharing issues.

On Aug. 22, the Blue House announced its decision not to extend Gsomia in response to Japan’s export restrictions and the removal of Korea from its so-called white list of preferred trading partners. Washington was quick to express disappointment over Seoul’s decision to terminate Gsomia, which was signed in November 2016 and had been automatically renewed since.

Stilwell in the interview acknowledged that the issues at the core of the dispute between Seoul and Tokyo remain unresolved, as Japan has not reconsidered its export restrictions on Korea. Likewise Seoul has said it will not intervene in the Korean Supreme Court rulings last year ordering Japanese companies to individually compensate forced labor victims during World War II, which Tokyo has been fiercely protesting.

Stilwell said that U.S. intervention “may solve things in the short term, but it absolutely will not lead to anything like a long-term solution,” urging the two sides to resolve the issues on their own.

“We all understand the benefits of trilateral cooperation,” he added.

While Washington also has a Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement with Seoul and Tokyo dating back to 2014, the United States has considered the bilateral Gsomia as symbolic of trilateral security cooperate with its two closest allies in the region especially to contain any North Korean or Chinese threats.

While one hurdle has been passed for the time being, time is running out to renew the defense cost-sharing pact between Seoul and Washington with just over a month left until the current agreement expires. Under the 10th SMA implemented since March, Seoul agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won, which amounted to some $920 million at the time of implementation, or around 8.2 percent more than what Korea spent under the previous deal.

The most recent of talks for the 11th SMA were scheduled to be held over two days in Seoul on Nov. 18 and 19 led by Korea’s chief negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart. But they were cut short when DeHart walked out just 80 minutes into the second day of talks.

Sources in Washington told the JoongAng Ilbo Saturday that the reason U.S. negotiators bolted from the talks was because Seoul requested an extension of the 10th SMA for another year.

“U.S. chief negotiator James DeHart walked away from the third round of talks in Seoul on Nov. 19 and declared a breakdown of talks because Korea asked for a one-year extension of the current 1.389 trillion won deal,” said one source.

The Korean negotiators asked for an extension in compliance of the SMA which allows more time for negotiations and prevents a lapse between deals. Extending the current deal indicates that the current share by Seoul will also be maintained for next year.

DeHart was said to have balked at the Korean side’s proposal, questioning whether Seoul wants to freeze the current amount and not increase its share at all. He was said to have then left the negotiating table without arranging another round of talks.

The source said on the reports on the amount Washington is demanding from Seoul, “It’s not like its goal is to receive $5 billion,” and that there was also “a new proposal to revive a multiyear deal with a gradual increment like in the past.”

The agreement covers personnel costs for Korean civilians working for the U.S. Forces Korea, as well as construction and logistical support costs, but Washington is believed to be trying to include items beyond these areas.

DeHart in his press conference on Nov. 19 called on Seoul to “put forward new proposals that would enable both sides to work toward a mutually acceptable agreement.”

The U.S. State Department and Korean Foreign Ministry have said they cannot confirm the content of undisclosed negotiations.

A source said, “The United States sees Korea’s proposal to extend the cost-sharing deal as a no-deal strategy to earn time until next year’s [U.S.] presidential elections.”

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, president of Armitage International, and Victor Cha, a former member of the U.S. National Security Council and the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, published an op-ed in the Washington Post Friday warning of weakening signs of the Korea-U.S. alliance and a possible “premature withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula.”

The piece describes that the Moon Jae-in administration’s last-minute decision to extend Gsomia was “wise” but that “damage to the reservoir of trust in the relationship had already been done” and that it had been “an act of alliance abuse.” Likewise, they wrote that the Donald Trump administration’s demand for a fivefold increase in defense cost sharing is “politically unfeasible for the Moon government” and that the collapse of talks last week was “a rare public acknowledgment of an open rift in the alliance.”

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