February 14, 2019 11:08
U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday hinted that he wants South Korea to pay still more for the upkeep of U.S. troops here, only two days after the two allies finally agreed to hike Seoul's share by 8.2 percent this year.
Trump was boasting in his characteristic rambling style about the increase in a Cabinet meeting at the White House, saying, "They agreed, at my request... They agreed to pay, yesterday, $500 million more toward their defense. Five-hundred million, with a couple of phone calls."
"I said, 'Why didn't you do this before?' They said, 'Nobody asked.' So -- it's got to go up. It's got to go up."
In fact it took the two countries a dozen rounds of negotiations to ink a one-year deal on Sunday that put South Korea's share at W1.039 trillion for this year (US$1=W1,123).
Trump did not reveal whom he supposedly called, and in fact Seoul's share has regularly risen in five-year updates to the Special Measures Agreement governing cost-sharing for the U.S. Forces Korea.
"Right now, it costs us $5 billion a year to defend... They were paying about $500 million for $5 billion worth of protection. And we have to do better than that. So they've agreed to pay $500 million more. And over the years, it will start going up," he added.
In fact Seoul paid around $860 million for the upkeep of U.S. troops last year, and is paying $70 million more this year. "The figures Trump mentioned are unfounded," a government source here said. "It seems that he exaggerated to show off his achievement."
This is not the first time Trump has grossly exaggerated figures related to the U.S. Forces Korea. On Feb. 3, he told CBS on "We have 40,000 troops in South Korea. It's very expensive." In fact there are around 28,000.
But this year Seoul caved in to a deal that only lasts one year instead of the usual five, so the threat of an yet another hike hangs heavy over the government here.
"The latest deal is in effect for just a year, but the addendum stipulates that the two sides can agree to extend it for another year," Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said. "We hope that you won't consider another increase a fait accompli."
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