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US, South Korea reach cost-sharing agreement on American troops

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Seoul and Washington kicked off their annual military training on Monday.

The United States and South Korea have reached a cost-sharing agreement for American troops stationed in the East Asian country, including an increase in Seoul’s share of the expenses.

The proposed “Special Measures Agreement” is a six-year deal and will replace the previous arrangement that expired at the end of 2019.

There are about 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea for what Washington calls deterrence against North Korea.

Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s foreign minister, asserted that “both sides will make a public announcement and hold a tentative signing ceremony after completing internal reporting procedures.”

“The government will resolve to sign an agreement in a swift manner to resolve its vacuum that has lasted more than a year,” he added.

Meanwhile, a US State Department spokeswoman boasted that the new bilateral deal reflects President Joe Biden administration's “commitment to reinvigorating and modernizing” the US alliances all over the world in order to improve “shared security and prosperity.”

The spokeswoman said that the agreement included a “negotiated meaningful increase in host nation support contributions,” without clarifying on the amount of payment.

Under the previous agreement, she claimed, more than 90 percent of South Korea’s contributions to maintain the US military presence returned to its economy.

Seoul currently pays Washington about $920 million a year. Negotiations for a new agreement stalled when former US president Donald Trump demanded a total of $5 billion from South Korea and rejected Seoul’s offer to pay 13 percent more.

Chun In-bum, a retired South Korean general and special forces commander who worked with the American military, said he was “disappointed” at the way Trump demanded more funds.

The general added that he hoped the new agreement “will highlight the fact that ‘Korea is not a freeloader’ and is and has been a reliable ally.”

The agreement comes as Seoul and Washington kick off their annual military exercises on Monday, with a low level of physical troop involvement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the nine-day training exercise is still likely to infuriate North Korea, which considers such drills rehearsals for invasion and a sign of the US hostile policy and a barrier to intra-Korean normalization of relations.

Meanwhile, in an apparent effort to placate Pyongyang, South Korea's Ministry of Unification urged North Korea to propose a “wise and flexible approach” toward the joint “minimal scale” drills.

The war games are a departure from Trump’s previous policy of suspending the “very provocative” joint military exercises following a now faltering diplomatic thaw with North Korea.

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