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Senators say US should stop excessive demands for defense deal with S. Korea

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)(AFP-Yonhap)
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)(AFP-Yonhap)

WASHINGTON -- The United States should stop demanding that South Korea pay significantly more for the American troop presence in the country, two US senators said Tuesday.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Edward Markey (D-MA) issued the call during a hearing looking back on the year since the February 2019 summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Both men lamented the lack of progress in North Korea's denuclearization and raised the importance of strengthening the US alliance with South Korea.

"Now is not the time for excessive demands that only serve to exacerbate tensions and uncertainty within the alliance, which only benefits our adversaries," said Gardner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy.

He was alluding to Washington's calls for a significant increase in Seoul's contributions under the bilateral Special Measures Agreement to the upkeep of 28,500 American troops on the peninsula.

"We should swiftly conclude negotiations on the US-ROK Special Measures Agreement, which would provide strategic stability on the Korean Peninsula and strengthen the US-ROK alliance," he said, referring to South Korea by its formal name, the Republic of Korea.

Markey, ranking member of the subcommittee, claimed that North Korea has only increased its nuclear weapons stockpile and conducted more short-range ballistic missile tests since the Hanoi summit ended without any agreement.

"That is why President Trump must put pen to paper and clarify that the United States will not tolerate any ballistic missile tests by North Korea, of any range," Markey said. "And he can show he values the contributions of South Koreans rather than knocking their Oscar-winning film, 'Parasite,' by abandoning his attempt to shake down South Korea through a renegotiated Special Measures Agreement."

The Bong Joon-ho directed film won the best picture Oscar earlier this month, prompting Trump to complain at two separate political rallies that he wants to see American films get honored.

The senators' comments come a day after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper redoubled his calls on South Korea to pay more for its defense following talks with his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, in Washington.

They also urged the passage of the Leverage to Enhance Effective Diplomacy Act that they coauthored.

The bill, still pending since its 2017 introduction, seeks to toughen sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs by directing the president to impose targeted sanctions against the North Korean government, businesses that trade with North Korea and affiliated people.

"Our sanctions policy has been inconsistent, which has left significant enforcement gaps that North Korea and its enablers continue to exploit," said Gardner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy.

"Time is not on our side to deter the growing threat from Kim Jong-un. It is time to go back to plan A on North Korea, the successful policy of 'maximum pressure' that was adopted early in the Trump administration but since abandoned in an earnest effort of diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang," he said.

Markey, ranking member of the subcommittee, added that the LEED Act will "strengthen our diplomatic negotiating position." (Yonhap)