U.S. asking Korea for 50% increase in defense cost-sharingWashington is reportedly pressuring Seoul to pay around a 50 percent increase in defense cost-sharing despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, while Seoul is not budging.
A senior U.S. administration official told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday that the United States requested the Korean government contribute around $1.3 billion this year for defense cost sharing as the two countries struggle to seal the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA). That amount is around 50 percent higher than what Seoul contributed in the previous deal which expired on Dec. 31 last year.
In the 10th SMA, a one-year deal signed in February 2019, Seoul agreed to pay 1.0389 trillion won, which amounted to some $920 million at the time, or about 8.2 percent more than what it spent the previous year.
Another U.S. government official likewise said that Washington has shown “flexibility” in recent weeks and expects flexibility from Seoul. This official did not deny that the United States requested Korea’s contribution to be $1.3 billion.
Negotiations for the 11th SMA kicked off last September and seven rounds of talks have been held. The Donald Trump administration initially demanded some $5 billion annually, a nearly fivefold increase in Korea’s contribution, though Washington later slightly reduced that offer.
Washington is seen to have made its new offer at the beginning of April.
The two sides reportedly reached a tentative agreement in late March in line with Seoul’s offer of a 13 percent increase in hopes of sealing a deal before a pending furlough of some 4,000 Korean personnel working for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). However, U.S. President Donald Trump rejected this offer and demanded Seoul pay more.
Thus, around half of Korean workers for the USFK have been unprecedentedly furloughed for an indefinite period since April 1.
On April 2, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a phone call with Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. Four days later, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper called Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo.
The $1.3 billion request is seen to have come up during this time.
However, the Korean government does not consider this amount “fair and reasonable.”
A Korean Foreign Ministry official said Thursday, “While we cannot confirm the exact amount, even if that figure is correct, it is not an amount that will be acceptable to Korea.”
Kang, while briefing the National Assembly foreign affairs committee on April 28, described the 13 percent increase as “our best offer.”
When asked if local reports of the United States requesting a 49 percent increase were true, Kim In-chul, the Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing Thursday that he could not confirm the matter because “negotiations are ongoing.”
On Wednesday, Pompeo and Kang held a phone conversation and discussed coronavirus response and alliance matters.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim said on the phone call, “The defense cost-sharing agreement is an issue that has to be reached through negotiation on both sides. Both sides also believe that it has to be reached rapidly if possible.”
He added, “There were no detailed discussions to my knowledge,” and generally repeated previous positions.
The two sides also struggled in the negotiation process for the 10th SMA and passed the deadline at the end of 2018 as Washington demanded Seoul pay around $1.25 billion in December that year, higher than the amount that had been discussed up until then.
Kim, when asked by a reporter about the seemingly diverging opinions on what constitutes a “fair” deal, replied, “The results of the negotiations will have to be acceptable by both sides. That is something we have always emphasized. If it is acceptable, then it will be seen as fair and reasonable to both sides.”
On Thursday, Kang sent a condolence letter to Pompeo over the recent passing of his father, Wayne Pompeo, a navy veteran of the 1950-53 Korean War, at the age of 89.
The message read, “Korea and the people of Korea will be forever grateful for his service and sacrifice, which will live on in the spirit of staunch Korea-U.S. alliance."
BY JUNG HYO-SIK, LEE YU-JUNG, SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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