U.S., South Korea Reach Deal on Troop Costs Ahead of Summit

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. and South Korea reached a cost-sharing deal for American forces on the Korean Peninsula, relieving pressure on the seven-decade alliance after the Trump administration demanded that Seoul pay as much as 50 percent more.

The State Department said in a statement Monday that the U.S. reached an agreement with South Korea on the so-called Special Measures Arrangement. The statement didn’t offer details of the deal, which was struck just weeks before President Donald Trump was set to hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

U.S., South Korea Reach Deal on Troop Costs Ahead of Summit

The deal calls for South Korea to contribute about $1 billion a year and setting the terms of the agreement for a single year, Yonhap News Agency of South Korea reported, citing a diplomatic source. The new funding pact is about 18 percent more than what Seoul had paid under the previous five-year agreement.

Failure to reach a deal could have shaken the regional security balance, clouded the nuclear summit and raised the possibility of Trump seeking to pull back American forces. The U.S. president has repeatedly expressed frustration with the open-ended deployment, saying after his first summit with Kim in June that he would “like to bring them back home, but that’s not part of the equation right now.”

“The U.S. commitment to the security of the ROK and its people remains ironclad,” the State Department said referring to South Korea’s formal name. The department said technical details were still being worked out.

‘Ashes and Darkness’

Soon after the troop deal was being announced, the State Department said in a separate statement that U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun will travel to Pyongyang on Wednesday for talks with his counterpart Kim Hyok Chol to prepare for the next summit.

South Korea has said it paid an estimated 960 billion won ($850 million) last year, financing the construction of U.S. military facilities and paying South Korean civilians who work at military posts.

The cost-sharing dispute was among the security issues left unresolved when former Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned on Dec. 20, citing differences with Trump over the value of alliances. The pact, which requires legislative approval by both nations, expired 11 days later.

But by cutting the deal’s term to one year, negotiators may soon be back at the table.

The alliance serves to maintain U.S. influence in Asia and defend against Kim, who hasn’t yet committed to give up the nuclear weapons he once threatened to use to “sink” Japan and reduce the America ally to “ashes and darkness.”

In recent weeks Kim has made demands that would weaken the military readiness of the allies, including seeking the removal of U.S. “strategic assets” from the region and an end to joint drills.

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