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U.S., South Korea agree on military costs; lawmakers slam 'excessive' demands

By
Elizabeth Shim
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (L) and South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo (R) shake hands during a press conference after their meeting at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday. Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA-EFE
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (L) and South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo (R) shake hands during a press conference after their meeting at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday. Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA-EFE

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korean military agreed in a joint statement signed Friday to include a clause on the "importance of cost sharing" among allies.

The statement of the 51st Security Consultative Meeting made public on Friday included the cost-sharing clause, reflecting U.S. demands that Seoul pay more for the troop presence on the peninsula, South Korean news service MoneyToday reported.

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U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo agreed on 23 provisions in the joint statement, an increase from 19 clauses in 2018, according to the report.

Esper told reporters in Seoul since South Korea is a "rich country" it can afford to pay more, and should pay more.

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Esper also said it is "very important" South Korea's contributions increase by the end of the year; the language regarding the cost increase was toned down in the joint statement, however, according to MoneyToday.

The Trump administration's demands for a five-fold increase in South Korea's defense burden sharing has triggered complaints in Seoul's National Assembly.

Yonhap reported Friday 47 politicians of left and center-left parties have signed a statement condemning the Trump administration's "bluffing" and its request Seoul pay as much as $4.7 billion in defense costs for troops on and beyond the peninsula.

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Politicians including Chung Dong-young, a former minister of unification, signed the statement. Suggestions that U.S. troops can be withdrawn from the peninsula unless demands for a five-fold increase in contributions are met represents a "serious threat," the group said.

The lawmakers also said South Korea is providing the "world's largest U.S. military base overseas" with 14.7 million square meters of land, and that South Korea covered $18 billion in costs to build the base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. The group added of South Korean contributions to U.S. defense costs, $1.14 billion was left unused until late 2018.

A third round of negotiations of the Special Measures Agreement on cost-sharing is scheduled for Monday, according to Tongil News.

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