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S. Korea, US near deal on sharing troop costs

Marines from South Korea and the US take part in amphibious landing drills in April 2020. (Ministry of National Defense)
Marines from South Korea and the US take part in amphibious landing drills in April 2020. (Ministry of National Defense)
South Korea and the United States are close to inking an agreement that could settle a prolonged dispute over how they should share the cost of maintaining 28,500 US troops here, the Wall Street Journal said Friday.

The two allies, whose talks have continually fallen apart since September 2019 because of differences over how much of the burden Seoul should shoulder, are reportedly set to sign a five-year accord. Seoul would pay about $1.3 billion in the fifth year, almost half the cost of stationing the troops, the report said.

Seoul and Washington are inching toward a diplomatic breakthrough as the Biden administration moves to reverse the Trump administration’s transactional approach. Trump had insisted that Korea pay five times what it paid under the previous one-year accord.

The new multiyear accord reportedly matches Seoul’s best offer of a 13 percent increase, though it remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will accept it or ask for more, according to the report, which added that Korean and US officials had declined to discuss the lingering differences.

Chung Eui-yong, Korea’s new foreign minister, told lawmakers a week earlier that the two allies would soon sign a deal, without elaborating. A senior Foreign Ministry official declined to confirm details, saying an agreement was to come.

The US State Department also declined to discuss the matter, saying only that the US was fully committed to an agreement that would solidify their ties. The bond is the linchpin of security and prosperity in Northeast Asia as well as in the Indo-Pacific region, the State Department told Voice of America on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Koreans are critical of the rise this year as the local economy is taking a hit from the pandemic. Under a parallel accord reached between the US and Japan this month, Tokyo avoided having to agree to a hike in its costs for another year, fueling the disapproval in Seoul.

By Choi Si-young (