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‘It Has Been A Very Long Process, But Ultimately A Very Successful Process’: South Korea Agrees to Pay More for U.S. Troops

U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in have lunch with troops at U.S. military installation Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Nov. 7, 2017.

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U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in have lunch with troops at U.S. military installation Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, Nov. 7, 2017. VOA

Officials signed a short-term agreement Sunday to boost South Korea’s contribution toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula, after a previous deal lapsed amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for the South to pay more.

The new deal must still be approved by South Korea’s parliament, but it would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) from 960 billion won in 2018.

Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months.

“It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful process,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters before another official from the foreign ministry initialed the agreement.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Timothy Betts, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary and Senior Adviser for Security Negotiations and Agreements in the U.S. Department of State, shake hands before their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, S
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Timothy Betts, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary and Senior Adviser for Security Negotiations and Agreements in the U.S. Department of State, shake hands before their meeting at Foreign Ministry. VOA

Domestic criticism

While acknowledging lingering domestic criticism of the new deal and the need for parliamentary approval, Kang said the response had “been positive so far.”

U.S. State Department senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements, Timothy Betts, met Kang before signing the agreement on behalf of the United States, and told reporters the money represented a small but important part of South Korea’s support for the alliance.

“The United States government realizes that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region,” he said.

US soldiers salute during a grand opening ceremony, June 29, 2018, of the new headquarters building for the United Nations Command and US Forces Korea at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.
US soldiers salute during a grand opening ceremony, June 29, 2018, of the new headquarters building for the United Nations Command and US Forces Korea at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. VOA

28,500 US troops

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution.

South Korean officials have said they had sought to limit its burden to $1 trillion won and make the accord valid for at least three years.

A senior South Korean ruling party legislator said last month that negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a “sudden, unacceptable” demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year.

But both sides worked to reach a deal to minimize the impact of the lapse on South Korean workers on U.S. military bases, and focus on nuclear talks ahead of a second U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul officials said.

The disagreement had raised the prospect that Trump could decide to withdraw at least some troops from South Korea, as he has in other countries like Syria. But on Sunday, South Korean officials told Yonhap news agency that the United States had affirmed it would not be changing its troop presence.

Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to Congress he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam, following their unprecedented meeting in June in Singapore.

Military exercises suspended

After the June summit, Trump announced a halt to joint military exercises with South Korea, saying they were expensive and paid for mostly by the United States.

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Major joint exercises have been suspended, but some small-scale drills have continued, earning rebukes from North Korea’s state media in recent months.

About 70 percent of South Korea’s contribution covers the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide administrative, technical and other services for the U.S. military.

Late last year, the U.S. military warned Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal was agreed. (VOA)

Next Story

US Sends Additional Troops to Middle East to Protect Forces from Iranian Threats

Last December, Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. In February, however, he decided to keep a few hundred troops there

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troops, iranian threats
FILE - In this Friday, May 10, 2019, photo released by the U.S. Navy, logistics specialists prepare to attach cargo to an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter on the flight deck the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf. VOA

The United States is sending additional troops to the Middle East to protect American forces from potential Iranian threats, President Donald Trump announced Friday.

“They’re mostly in a protective capacity,” he told reporters in response to a VOA question.

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said the additions to the region would include “a Patriot battalion to defend against missile threats; additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; an engineer element to provide force protection improvements throughout the region; and a fighter aircraft squadron to provide additional deterrence.

“The additional deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility is a prudent defensive measure and intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities,” Shanahan added.

troops, iranian threats
FILE – A Patriot weapons system is fired at the NATO Missile Firing Installation in Chania, Greece. VOA

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Navy Rear Adm. Michael Gilday said that the actual deployment would be about 900 additional troops. He said 600 service members included in the president’s and defense secretary’s statements were men and women currently in the region, but whose deployments were being extended for additional protection. Gilday said they were attached to a Patriot missile battalion in the Middle East.

The request for more protection came from the U.S. Central Command chief, Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie. Shanahan said Thursday that the request was part of a “normal back and forth” with CENTCOM, but added that it was “at a higher-elevated level, given all the dynamics there in the Middle East.”

Apparent skepticism

Ahead of a security briefing on the Iranian threat Thursday, Trump appeared skeptical that additional troops would need to be deployed.

“I don’t think we’re going to need them. I really don’t,” Trump said before adding, “I would certainly send troops if we need them.”

Some Democrats in Congress have disagreed with the military escalation, with Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine criticizing the “very bellicose tweets from the president” and warning that it would “be a colossal disaster if the United States were involved in Iran.”

troops, iranian threats
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., passes reporters as he and other congressional leaders head to a classified briefing on Iran after members of both parties asked for more information on the White House’s claims of rising threats in the Middle East, at the Capitol in Washington, May 16, 2019. President Donald Trump said at the time that he hoped the U.S. was not a path to war with Iran, following a series of administration statements and actions that alarmed American allies. VOA

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been escalating since Trump announced his decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.

“Iran has been a very dangerous player, very bad player. They are a nation of terror, and we won’t put up with it,” Trump said Thursday.

‘Try respect’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded recently to what he called “genocidal taunts” by saying that “Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone,” including Genghis Kahn and Alexander the Great. “Try respect. It works,” Zarif tweeted.

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Last week, Trump told Shanahan that he did not want to go to war with Iran. Sending additional U.S. troops to the region would mark a shift in position for Trump, who has repeatedly said in the past he wanted to reduce the number of U.S. troops in the region.

Last December, Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. In February, however, he decided to keep a few hundred troops there. (VOA)