April 16, 2020 13:32
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has put yet more pressure on "wealthy" Korea to cough up money for the upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea.
"My view remains that South Korea is a close and trusted ally of ours, but they're a wealthy country," Esper said in a press briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
He was responding to a recent Reuters report that U.S. President Donald Trump vetoed what was effectively a done deal to increase Seoul's contribution by "at least 13 percent from the previous accord."
"They can and should pay more to help for our mutual defense and their specific defense," Esper added. Reuters last Friday cited sources as saying Trump "already rejected what was probably Seoul's best offer."
But Esper washed his hands of the nitty-gritty. "I defer to the State Department on that," he said, referring to the epic bilateral talks. "They're leading the negotiations."
Esper nonetheless admitted that he has gotten involved in the negotiations through talks with his Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo.
On April 6, he tweeted, "I appreciate Korean Defense Minister Jeong taking my phone call today to discuss the importance of equitable burden sharing across the alliance. It is critical that we get a fair, balanced, and comprehensive agreement signed quickly."
There is little chance that Trump will back down from his demand for an exorbitant increase of Seoul's share of the upkeep cost, one of his key campaign promises, ahead of the November presidential election. But it is not easy for Korea to accept more than the 13 percent hike, already an all-time high since 2001. Public sentiment would probably not bear it.
Meanwhile, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in the press briefing that the Pentagon's assessment of North Korea's latest short-range surface-to-ship cruise missiles "was mixed right now but the missiles were not particularly big."
He added, "I don't think it is particularly provocative or threatening to us as to what happened. It may be tied to some celebrations that are happening inside North Korea as opposed to any deliberate provocation against us."
He was apparently referring to Pyongyang's celebrations of regime founder Kim Il-sung's birthday on Wednesday.
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