July 03, 2017 12:43
U.S. President Donald Trump said after his summit with President Moon Jae-in on Friday that he wants to ensure a "fair" division of the cost of keeping 29,000 American troops in Korea. Trump stressed that a fair sharing of the costs is "very important."
The comments were absent from the written joint statement the two leaders issued after their summit, but Trump often talks off the cuff, perhaps to play to his core support base.
One diplomatic source said, "The comments may have been for domestic consumption, but they did confirm that Trump is determined to raise Korea's share of the costs." As a result, Seoul could face pressure to shoulder more of the costs in annual defense talks scheduled late this year.
The issue of getting Washington's allies to pay more to keep American troops stationed on their soil was among Trump's key campaign themes. One government official who was present at the summit said Saturday, "We explained in detail how much we contribute to the defense expenses."
The shared upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea covers salaries for Koreans working for the U.S. military, the cost of buildings in American bases and support for various military equipment. Under a cost-sharing agreement inked in January 2014, Seoul paid W920 billion that year and with a slight increase every year is about to pay W935.5 billion this year (US$1=W1,146). The next cost-sharing talks start in early 2018 for the arrangement starting the following year.
A government official here said, "It won't be as high as the $1 billion Trump mentioned in April this year, but it looks like Washington will seek the highest increase so far."
The Foreign Ministry has said Korea will probably not face the same tough demands Trump has been making of NATO allies, but that could be proved wrong.
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