Seoul and Washington are near agreement to keep the raise in the host country’s cost in backing 28,500-strong U.S. forces in South Korea within 10 percent against current level in the 2020 Special Measures Agreement (SMA), significantly below the alleged five-fold hike initially demanded by the United States.
The two sides have been negotiating to renew SMA, the annual cost-sharing terms that expire by the Dec. 31 and the compromise comes amid Seoul’s pitch about its share of weaponry imports from the United States, according to unnamed sources from the Blue House and government officials close to the negotiations.
The two countries have been locked in tense negotiations to renew the defense cost-sharing agreement to keep U.S. troops in Korea with U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly demanding greater cost-sharing from allies. The administration is alleged to have asked Seoul to shoulder $5 billion for defense cost-sharing next year, five times the current level.
The Korean government has been bargaining to keep the annual raise in single digit with a provision of “gradual increase.” Given this year’s 8.2 percent gain from last year, Seoul’s share in sustaining U.S. troops next year could be raised to around 9 percent.
Instead, Seoul has proposed to increase imports of U.S. weapons, according to the sources.
Over the last 10 years, South Korea stayed as the fourth largest buyer of U.S. weapons, having purchased $6.3 billion out of total $93.1 billion U.S. weapons shipped from 2008 to 2018.
By Ahn Jeong-hoon and Minu Kim
[ⓒ Pulse by Maeil Business Newspaper & mk.co.kr, All rights reserved]