Washington: The Pentagon said on Saturday that its military leader pledged “unwavering commitment” of the US to South Korea’s defence. According to a Pentagon statement, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, called his South Korean counterpart Adm. Choi Yoon-Hee late on Friday night and reiterated the strength of the US-South Korea alliance, Xinhua reporetd.
The two military chiefs concurred they would watch North Korea’s actions closely in the coming days and would ensure that the US and South Korea continue to work closely with each other to deter the North’s “provocations and defuse tensions”. North and South Korea started high-level urgent contacts earlier Saturday in the truce village of Panmunjom to discuss the prevailing tense situation on the peninsula.
The meeting is the highest level inter-Korean contact since President Park took office in February 2013. It came amid escalated tensions caused by cross-border exchange of fire on Thursday over South Korea’s propaganda broadcasts. North Korea warned that unless South Korea stops propaganda broadcasts in front line areas before 5 p.m., it will take military action. South Korea threatened stern retaliation against any further provocations.
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.
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.
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.