US and South Korea fail to reach cost sharing agreement for US troops

The United States and South Korea have failed to agree on how to divide the cost for US troops stationed in South Korea after two days of negotiations, according to South Korean and American officials.

The failure to reach agreement comes amid reports that President Donald Trump has been demanding that South Korea pay roughly 400% more than Seoul is currently paying to house US troops. The President’s demand comes amid reports that North Korea may soon conduct a major provocation in the face of stalled nuclear talks with Washington.

The current cost sharing agreement between Washington and Seoul is due to expire at the end of 2019, but the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and US State Department said a next round of talks has been scheduled for January.

A US defense official previously told CNN that the US military will be able to prevent the failure to reach an agreement by the end-of-year deadline from having any impact on operations by shifting some of its costs in South Korea.

‘Despite differences’

In a statement, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “the two sides are expanding the degree of mutual understanding through discussions despite differences in positions on various issues, and agreed to continue close consultations for a mutually acceptable agreement.”

“We have completed the latest round of Special Measures Agreement negotiations in Seoul and plan to continue into another round in early January,” a State Department spokesperson told CNN, adding “we appreciate the considerable resources the Republic of Korea provides to the US-ROK Alliance, including but not limited to the Korea Special Measures Agreement, but the President has been clear that the Republic of Korea can and should contribute more of its fair share.”

Trump had been demanding that South Korea pay $4.7 billion to cover the costs of US forces in Korea, a congressional aide and an administration official previously told CNN.

The President’s demand was seen by many in Washington and Seoul as unrealistic, worrying some that Trump could seek to unilaterally withdraw US forces if South Korea if he is not satisfied.

The current deal, which boosted South Korea’s contribution from about $800 million to nearly $1 billion, was agreed upon and signed in February, more than a month after the previous arrangement expired on December 31, 2018.

While previous agreements had been for five-year terms, last year the US and South Korea negotiated a year-long extension to buy time to reach a longer-term arrangement.

The Trump administration had originally sought to get Seoul to pay some $1.6 billion toward the cost of housing US troops, but agreed to the lower $1 billion figure with the understanding that they could negotiate a new arrangement for 2020.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate passed Tuesday and Trump is expected to sign, prohibits the withdrawal of any US troops from South Korea unless the Defense Secretary has certified that doing so “is in the national security interest of the United States and will not significantly undermine the security of United States allies in the region.”

CNN’s Nicole Gaouette, Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report

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