|Timothy Betts, left, acting deputy assistant secretary and senior advisor for Security Negotiations and Agreements at the U.S. Department of State, and his South Korean counterpart Chang Won-sam sign a deal to raise South Korea's contribution to the upkeep of U.S. troops here, at the government complex in Seoul, Sunday. Yonhap|
By Park Ji-won
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.
Chang Won-sam, the top negotiator in defense cost-sharing negotiations and Timothy Betts, acting deputy assistant secretary and senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements of U.S. State Department signed the one-year contract at the foreign ministry in Seoul, Sunday which the South will pay 1.038 trillion won ($923 million) for stationing 28,500 USFK soldiers in South Korea. The figure was to reflect an 8.2 percent increase of Seoul's own defense budget in 2019 year-on-year. The South paid 960.2 billion won for the defense cost sharing in 2018.
The official Special Measures Agreement (SMA) will be officially signed by Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris after Cabinet members and President Moon Jae-in approve the preliminary document. The SMA will take effect after National Assembly ratifies it around April.
The agreement came after months-long negotiations between the two since last year.
Prior to the signing, Betts paid a courtesy visit to Kang on behalf of the U.S. to brief them of the details of the agreement. "It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful process," Kang told reporters.
"I think at this point, we were able to close the gap on the total amount," she told the U.S. official. "We have a number of domestic steps that we now need to go through."
"The United States government realizes that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region," he said.
"The SMA is only a small part of that. But it's an important part, and we are very pleased that our consultations resulted in an agreement," Betts said.
The provisional pact was agreed to after Seoul reportedly accepted the U.S.'s demand of fixing a one-year contract from the previous five-year one while Washington agreed to adjust the South's contributions to around 1 trillion won. The U.S. originally asked Seoul to pay about $1 billion. This would allow Washington to call for additional increases in the amount South Korea would pay for the following year.
The previous defense cost-sharing agreement stipulated the amount South Korea would shoulder from 2014 to 2018. The South and the U.S. have shared the costs for the USFK since 1991, and renewed the contract every two to five years.
Seoul had agreed with the U.S. to pay about 680.4 billion won in 2005 while agreeing to pay 760 billion won in 2009.
A group of activists staged a rally Sunday in front of the foreign ministry building against the agreement, claiming that renegotiating the agreement would largely increase Seoul's burden.