On Tuesday, the United States and South Korea came to an agreement “in principle” on a preliminary deal to settle cost-sharing within the alliance. The accord comes weeks ahead of an anticipated summit meeting between U.S. President Donald J. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, where the activities and posture of the U.S.-South Korea alliance may emerge as a contentious topic.
“The United States and the Republic of Korea have reached an agreement in principle on a new Special Measures Agreement,” the State Department said. “Both sides are committed to working out remaining technical issues as quickly as possible.” The announcement came as Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, prepared to meet his North Korean negotiating counterpart for working-level talks in Pyongyang.
The agreement announced on Tuesday is not a full five-year Special Measures Agreement. Since the early 1990s, the alliance has determined South Korea’s contribution to the costs of the U.S. presence on the Korean Peninsula through these agreements. The last agreement expired on December 31, 2018, after more than 10 rounds of bilateral talks last year failed to produce a five-year agreement on allied burden-sharing.
The State Department did not provide details on the terms of the preliminary agreement between the two sides, but one source that spoke to CNN clarified that South Korea had agreed to increase its contribution from some $800 million to $1 billion. The preliminary agreement will cover the upcoming year of allied operations with the possibility of an extension into a second year if necessary.
Per earlier reports, the Trump administration was demanding that the South Korean government increase its contributions by 100 percent, to around $1.6 billion. The standoff over the SMA issue last year raised concerns that Trump may be prone to withdraw U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula. Roughly 28,500 military personnel are stationed with U.S. Forces Korea.
The U.S. president has regularly complained that U.S. allies make insufficient burden-sharing contributions. Outside of South Korea, he has also criticized the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for spending insufficient amounts on defense.
During an interview this weekend, Trump addressed the prospect of removing troops from the Korean Peninsula, noting that he had “never even discussed removing them.”
Tuesday’s announcement comes as the United States and South Korea discuss the timing of an upcoming announcement of their regular joint military exercises. The Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercises — the largest between the two sides — normally take place starting in March. North Korea has vehemently criticized these exercises and treats them as a ruse for an invasion of its territory.