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Posted at: Feb 11, 2019, 8:31 AM; last updated: Feb 11, 2019, 8:31 AM (IST)

South Korea to pay more to US troops

South Korea to pay more to US troops
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (R) and Timothy Betts, US State Department senior adviser, in Seoul on Sunday. AFP

Seoul, February 10

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

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea, where the US has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War. 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 said at a meeting before another official from the foreign ministry initialled 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". The US State Department senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements, Timothy Betts, met Kang before signing the agreement on behalf of the US, and told her the money represented a small but important part of South Korea’s support for the alliance. 

“The US government realises that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region," he said. 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 US made a "sudden, unacceptable" demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year. But both sides worked to hammer out an agreement to minimise the impact on South Koreans working on US military bases, and focus on nuclear talks ahead of a second US-North Korea summit, Seoul officials said.  — Reuters

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