South Korea signs deal to pay more for US troops after Trump demand

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Officials signed a short-term agreement on Sunday to boost South Korea’s
contribution toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula, after a
previous deal lapsed amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for the
South to pay more.

The new deal must still be approved by South Korea’s parliament, but
it would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) from
960 billion won in 2018.

Unlike past agreements, which lasted
for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially
forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months.

“It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful
process,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kyung-wha told reporters before
another official from the foreign ministry initialed the agreement.

While
acknowledging lingering domestic criticism of the new deal and the need
for parliamentary approval, Kang said the response had “been positive
so far”.

U.S. State Department senior adviser for security
negotiations and agreements, Timothy Betts, met Kang before signing the
agreement on behalf of the United States, and told reporters the money
represented a small but important part of South Korea’s support for the
alliance.

“The
United States government realizes that South Korea does a lot for our
alliance and for peace and stability in this region,” he said.

About
28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United
States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10
rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp
increase in South Korea’s contribution.

South Korean officials
have said they had sought to limit its burden to $1 trillion won and
make the accord valid for at least three years.

A senior South Korean ruling party legislator said last month that
negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a “sudden,
unacceptable” demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year.

But both sides worked to hammer out a deal to minimize the
impact of the lapse on South Korean workers on U.S. military bases, and
focus on nuclear talks ahead of a second U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul
officials said.

Trump said in his annual State of the Union
address to Congress on Tuesday he would meet North Korean leader Kim
Jong Un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam, following their unprecedented meeting
in June in Singapore.

After the June summit, Trump announced a
halt to joint military exercises with South Korea, saying they were
expensive and paid for mostly by the United States.

Major joint exercises have been suspended, but some small-scale
drills have continued, earning rebukes from North Korea’s state media in
recent months.

About 70 percent of South Korea’s contribution
covers the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide
administrative, technical and other services for the U.S. military.

Late
last year, the U.S. military warned Korean workers on its bases they
might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal was agreed.

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