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South Koreans protest renegotiating costs of U.S. military presence

By Elizabeth Shim
South Koreans protest renegotiating costs of U.S. military presence
The United States and South Korea are expected to re-enter negotiations for military cost sharing in September. Photo by Yonhap

Aug. 20 (UPI) -- South Korean protesters gathered outside the presidential Blue House on Tuesday to voice opposition to the upcoming military cost-sharing renegotiations between Seoul and Washington.

A dozen protesters with the Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea and other organizations said they object to U.S. President Donald Trump's demands that South Korea "pay more" for defense costs, the same day U.S. and South Korean officials met for an "exploratory" meeting ahead of the start of renegotiations, local news service Tongil News reported.

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Demonstrators said Trump's demands are excessive and force South Korea to foot the bill for U.S. defense costs beyond Korea's borders.

"The Trump administration's setting of a record-high budget of $750 billion for U.S. national defense means it wants to pour [South Korea's] national wealth into in an endless arms race in order to confront China and Russia," they said. "For the sake of [South Korea's] economy, security and peace, the defense-sharing agreement negotiations must truly stop now."

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Trump has called for an increase in defense-cost sharing less than a year after the conclusion of the most recent round of negotiations. South Korea agreed to raise its contribution by 8.2 percent and pay $915 million, and the agreement is being revisited annually. Under previous U.S. administrations, negotiations took place on a five-year schedule, with South Korea defense spending increasing by 20 percent in the last 10 years.

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The protesters said the United States is demanding South Korea pay $5 billion annually, or 5.8 times the current amount South Korea is paying for troops on the peninsula.

Last week, a U.S. analyst told UPI he is concerned about alliance management and the accelerated schedule.

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Exploratory pre-negotiations for cost sharing, or the Special Measures Agreement, began on Tuesday, according to News 1.

Timothy Betts, the U.S. negotiator for defense costs in South Korea, and his South Korean counterpart Chang Won-sam met in Seoul ahead of official negotiations expected to start in September.

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