January 13, 2014 09:15
Korea has agreed to pay W920 billion for the upkeep of U.S. troops here, up 5.8 percent from 2013, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday (US$1=W1,063).
The new cost-sharing deal will last until May 2018. Over the next four years, the increase will be decided on inflation but not exceed 4 percent, the ministry said.
If inflation ranges between two and three percent, Korea's share would exceed W1 trillion in annual contributions by 2017 to 2018.
After criticism about lack of transparency in how the U.S. Forces Korea spends the money, Seoul and Washington agreed to set up a joint committee that will study each spending category a year prior to setting a new cost-sharing scheme. The U.S. also agreed to provide Korea with specific information on spending plans.
In 10 rounds of talks that started in July of last year, the U.S. demanded a bigger contribution from Korea, while Korea sought improvements in transparency. Washington wanted Seoul to pay more than W1 trillion a year citing the cost for each area of maintaining American troops here over the next five years. It claimed that more money needs to be spent on refurbishing aging landing strips and military bases in Daegu and Osan.
Washington presented specific spending needs rather than calling on Korea to shoulder half of the costs excluding salaries for the upkeep, as it had done in the past.
The government here had originally hoped to freeze or cut its share since the cost of relocating the main U.S. military base from Seoul to Pyeongtaek in 2016 had already been set aside. But Seoul accepted the 5.8-percent increase in the belief that conditions for American soldiers must be improved at a time amid the growing security risk on the Korean Peninsula.
Getting the U.S. to agree to increased transparency in spending represents some progress. Until now, the U.S. merely informed the Defense Ministry at the end of April each year how much it intends to spend on personnel, facility construction and support. A government official said, "The U.S. used to notify us of our share of the costs without providing any basis" for the money being spent.
The cost-sharing plan has to be approved by the National Assembly but cannot be reduced. Some experts worry that if the USFK refuses to provide all the necessary information due to security concerns, lawmakers will have a hard time assessing the increase.
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