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Seoul, Washington sign new deal for US troops

China Daily | Updated: 2019-02-12 07:16

SEOUL - The Republic of Korea and the United States struck a new deal on Sunday that increases Seoul's contribution to the cost of the US military presence on its soil, overcoming previous failed negotiations that caused worries about their decadeslong alliance.

The development comes as US President Donald Trump is set to hold his second summit with Democratic People's Republic of Korea's top leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam in late February.

Seoul last year provided about $830 million, covering roughly 40 percent of the cost of the deployment of 28,500 US soldiers. Trump has pushed for the ROK to pay more.

On Sunday, chief negotiators from the two countries signed a new cost-sharing plan, which requires the ROK to pay about 1.04 trillion won ($924 million) in 2019, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The statement said the two countries reaffirmed the need for a "stable" US military deployment amid the "rapidly changing situation on the Korean Peninsula". The ministry said the US assured the ROK that it is committed to the alliance and has no plans to adjust the number of its troops in the ROK.

Seoul began paying for the US military deployment in the early 1990s, after rebuilding its economy from the devastation of the 1950-1953 Korean War. The big US military presence in the ROK is a symbol of the countries' alliance, forged in blood during the war, but also a source of long-running anti-US sentiments.

About 20 anti-US activists rallied near the Foreign Ministry building in Seoul on Sunday, chanting slogans like "No more money for US troops". No violence was reported.

"The US government realizes that Korea (the ROK) does a lot for our alliance and peace and stability in the region," chief US negotiator Timothy Betts said on Sunday in Seoul.

The deal, which involves the spending of ROK taxpayer money, requires parliamentary approval in the ROK, but not in the US, according to Seoul's Foreign Ministry.

The allies had failed to reach a new cost-sharing plan during 10 rounds of talks. A five-year 2014 deal that covered ROK's payment last year expired at the end of 2018.

Some conservatives in the ROK voiced concerns over a weakening alliance with the US at the same time as negotiations with the DPRK to deprive it of its nuclear weapons hit a stalemate. They said Trump might use the failed military cost-sharing negotiations as an excuse to pull back some US troops in the ROK as a bargaining chip in talks with Kim.

Trump told the CBS TV program Face the Nation on Feb 3 that he has no plans to withdraw troops from Seoul. During his election campaign, Trump suggested he could pull back troops from the ROK and Japan unless they took on greater a share of the financial burdens of supporting US soldiers deployed there.

 Seoul, Washington sign new deal for US troops

ROK protesters hold banners during a rally as police officers stand guard near the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Sunday.Lee Jinman / Ap

(China Daily 02/12/2019 page11)

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