February 11, 2019 13:11
Seoul and Washington have finally concluded negotiations on sharing the upkeep cost of U.S. troops here, putting South Korea's share at W1.039 trillion for this year, up 8.2 percent from last year (US$1=W1,126).
The one-year deal exceeds the W1 trillion mark for the first time.
Top negotiators Chang Won-sam and Timothy Betts initialed the Special Measures Agreement at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Sunday. The two sides took a dozen rounds of negotiations since March last year to arrive at a compromise that heavily favors the American side.
Washington wanted a one-year deal with Seoul's share at about W1.12 trillion (US$1 billion), but Seoul wanted a deal effective for three to five years at W999.9 billion per year.
In the end Seoul climbed down on the duration for a small discount, but it will not be long before yet another deal has to be negotiated for next year. The deal will be formally signed once it is approved by the Cabinet and the president. It must then be ratified by the National Assembly to go into effect.
Still, there was some relief that the deal was concluded before the U.S.-North Korea summit, where American troop reductions will be off the table for now.
Prof. Park Won-gon of Handong Global University said, "The two countries have now resolved a pressing issue that could have posed a burden on the alliance ahead of the second U.S.-North Korea summit. But a one-year agreement is a big drag on Seoul."
In the first half of the year, Seoul will have to begin fresh rounds of negotiations for next year and beyond, and the Trump administration will highly likely to demand more money ahead of the U.S. presidential election.
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