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Trump says he rejected Seoul’s offer for defense costs

President Donald Trump speaks during the press briefing at the White House, Monday. (AP-Yonhap)
President Donald Trump speaks during the press briefing at the White House, Monday. (AP-Yonhap)

US President Donald Trump said Monday (US time) that he had turned down an offer from South Korea to pay a certain sum as part of a defense cost-sharing deal, saying wealthy countries such as South Korea should pay more to host American troops. 

“Now they’ve offered us a certain amount of money and I rejected it,” Trump said during a White House press conference, referring to the drawn-out negotiations on how much each side should pay for the upkeep of the roughly 28,500 US troops here. 

“So we’re defending a wonderful nation, a nation that we have great relationships, but we’re asking them to pay for a big percentage of what we’re doing,” he said, calling the status quo unfair. 

According to earlier news reports, Trump rejected what was probably Seoul’s best offer -- an increase of at least 13 percent over last year’s Special Measures Agreement, under which Seoul paid around 1.04 trillion won ($842 million). Trump has long insisted that allies of the US should contribute more and has demanded a fivefold increase from South Korea to about $5 billion per year. 

Amid speculation that the US might reduce troop levels here to pressure Seoul in the ongoing negotiations, Trump denied that would happen. 

“It’s not a question of reduction, it’s a question of will they contribute toward the defense of their own nation? We are defending nations that are very wealthy,” he said. “South Korea is a very wealthy nation -- they make our television sets, they make ships, they make everything.”

The standoff between the two allies over the renewal of the SMA -- which expired late last year -- has put 4,000 South Korean workers employed by US Forces Korea out of jobs since early this month because no new pact is in place. 

On the question of what happens next with the deal, Trump said “we will find out fairly soon.”

But with both countries focused on battling the coronavirus pandemic, the negotiations are expected to drag on further, causing concerns about US military readiness on the Korean Peninsula in case of any conflict with Pyongyang. 

“Since the last time (when the deal was not sealed in early April), we haven’t yet reached a stage to initiate consultations or negotiations,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity. 

Despite the clash over the accord, Trump added that he and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were good friends, saying he had congratulated Moon on his party’s landslide victory in the recent parliamentary election. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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