South Korea signs deal to pay more for USA troops

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha right and Timothy Betts acting Deputy Assistant Secretary and Senior Advisor for Security Negotiations and Agreements in the U.S. Department of State stand for the media before their meeting at Foreign Mini

South Korea and the United States struck a new deal Sunday on how much Seoul should pay for the US military presence on its soil, official said, after previous rounds of failed negotiations caused worries about their decades-long alliance.

South Korea signed a provisional agreement to pay around 1.04 trillion won this year for the stationing of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) troops here, a rise of 8.2 percent year-on-year. The contract is for one year and South Korea had wanted it for three to five years, but there is an option for extensions, according to South Korea's Foreign Ministry.

Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months.

"The United States government realizes that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region", he said.

Citing officials at South Korea's presidential Blue House, Yonhap also reported that South Korean President Moon Jae-in would discuss the upcoming summit with Mr Trump "soon", and that United States and North Korean officials would be meeting in an unspecified Asian country ahead of the summit. On Sunday, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said the countries signed a short-term agreement.

Timothy Betts (L), acting deputy assistant secretary and senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements in the U.S. Department of State and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha during their meeting at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on February 10, 2019.

About 70 per cent of South Korea's contribution covers the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide administrative, technical and other services to the United States military.

Upon review from the presidential office and the Legislation Ministry, the tentative pact is expected to be submitted to the National Assembly for approval sometime around April, before it can take effect. "We are very pleased that our consultations resulted in an agreement, and I think that will deepen our cooperation in the alliance". 70 percent of South Korea's support covers the salaries of 8.700 South Koreans who provide administrative and technical services for the 28,500 American troops stationed in their country.

"It's very expensive", he said on "Face the Nation" on CBS.

The disagreement had raised the prospect that Mr Trump could decide to withdraw at least some troops from South Korea, as he has done in other countries like Syria.

Yonhap said the United States had previously demanded 1.13 trillion won (US$1 billion) from South Korea.

The new payment agreement comes weeks before Trump is set to meet for a second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The next round of annual joint military exercises, called Key Resolve/Foal Eagle, is due to be held in the spring, although officials have said they won't announce a date until after the Vietnam summit. The North and its main backer, China, also would like to see the USA military presence removed from their doorstep.

Late previous year, the USA military had warned South Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal was agreed.

"The South Korean leader also pointed out, the peace process that started past year is making progress in bringing the Peninsula closer to peace and prosperity".

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