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State Dept.: U.S. did not 'make demands' on South Korea in defense negotiations

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price called the negotiations with South Korea over a new military cost-sharing agreement good faith and constructive and said that Washington did not make demands on Seoul. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA 
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price called the negotiations with South Korea over a new military cost-sharing agreement "good faith" and "constructive" and said that Washington did not "make demands" on Seoul. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA 

SEOUL, March 9 (UPI) -- The United States did not put pressure on South Korea during negotiations for a new defense cost-sharing agreement, a U.S. State Department spokesman said, indicating a renewed relationship between the allies under the administration of President Joe Biden.

"I would say that the South Koreans are our allies, so in the context of a relationship with a close ally ... I don't think the United States would make demands," State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a briefing on Monday.

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"[C]ertainly, I don't think that would help to strengthen the underlying alliance," Price continued. "We have engaged in good faith, constructive negotiations."

Seoul and Washington announced that a deal had been reached on Sunday, ending a long impasse over how much South Korea would pay to help maintain the 28,500 U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula. Details of the agreement, which must be signed by both sides and ratified by the South Korean parliament, were not disclosed.

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The two sides had been deadlocked since the previous cost-sharing pact, known as the Special Measures Agreement, expired at the end of 2019.

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Seoul was offering an increase of 13% over the $870 million share that it paid in 2019, but former U.S. President Donald Trump rejected the proposal, initially demanding that South Korea pay a more than fivefold hike of $5 billion per year.

Trump frequently criticized South Korea and other allies for not paying enough toward the cost of the U.S. military presence in their countries while threatening troop withdrawals. He also questioned the need for regular large-scale joint military drills with South Korea, calling them "war games" and deriding them as "very expensive" and "provocative."

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Trump's stance strained relations between the United States and South Korea even as both sides coordinated on a major diplomatic rapprochement with North Korea in 2018 and 2019. The expired cost-sharing agreement also forced U.S. Forces Korea to furlough some 4,000 South Korean civilian employees for more than two months in 2020 and to suspend work on defense infrastructure projects.

The new Special Measures Agreement will be in effect for six years, Price said Monday.

An agreement came on the ninth round of negotiations overall and the first under the administration of Biden, demonstrating a clear shift in tone between the allies.

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Ahead of the election in October, Biden wrote a column for South Korean news agency Yonhap, promising to boost relations.

"As president, I'll stand with South Korea, strengthening our alliance to safeguard peace in East Asia and beyond, rather than extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops," he wrote.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in also vowed to bring the alliance closer during his first phone call with Biden in November, and welcomed "America's return" to the world stage.

U.S. and South Korean forces continued to hold scaled-back joint military exercises for the second day on Tuesday. The drills are a computer-simulated Combined Command Post Training, with minimal troop levels due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

North Korea has not responded publicly, but Pyongyang has consistently condemned the joint drills in previous years, characterizing them as a rehearsal for an invasion.

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