U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made clear Wednesday the Pentagon will not cut its spending in Korea despite the so-called sequester, an automatic massive defense budget reduction that took effect on March 1.
In a speech at the annual conference of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), he said the Barack Obama administration will not apply sequester to a war in Afghanistan nor to the stationing of around 28,500 troops in South Korea.
He stressed the importance of maintaining combat readiness on the peninsula against North Korea's possible attacks.
"We exempted a number of other critical functions from sequester -- for example, nuclear deterrence, our ability to respond immediately to crises, what we call "fight tonight" -- on the Korean Peninsula, for example, if that were to become necessary -- and on down the line, taking some things off the table entirely," Carter said.
U.S. military officials repeatedly said the sequester won't affect the U.S. Forces Korea but concerns have persisted in Seoul that Washington may seek to pass more of the financial burden to South Korea.
The allies are bracing for a new round of sensitive talks on splitting costs for the stationing of American troops there.
According to formal data, South Korea shares more than 40 percent of the total annual cost. Some activists claim the U.S. is expected to try to raise the ratio to 50 percent.
Under the sequester, which is part of Washington's efforts to reduce the federal debt deficit, the Pentagon is required to slash $46 billion until September, nearly 10 percent of its base budget. (Yonhap News)