Pentagon chief urges 'wealthy' S. Korea to pay more for US troops

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pressed South Korea on Friday to pay more for the cost of stationing U.S. troops in the country and to maintain an intelligence-sharing pact with its other Asian ally Japan, that Seoul is about to let lapse. 


South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (L) greets U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper as Esper arrives at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, November 15, 2019. (Photo: VCG)

Speaking after a high-level defense policy meeting with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper also said the two countries have to be flexible with their joint military drills to support ongoing diplomatic efforts with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). 

But he stopped short of announcing any changes to exercises next month, which have been sharply condemned by the DPRK. 

The DPRK said on Thursday it had turned down a U.S. offer for fresh talks ahead of a year-end deadline Pyongyang has set for Washington to show more flexibility in negotiations. The United States and South Korea are scrambling to clinch an agreement in the coming weeks to cover next year's costs of maintaining the 28,500-strong U.S. military presence in South Korea. 

Esper said South Korea "is a wealthy country and could and should pay more" for the deployment of U.S. military. 

"It is crucial that we conclude the (defense pact) ... with increased burden-sharing by the Republic of Korea before the end of the year," Esper told in a news conference. 

Jeong said he and Esper shared the view that the cost-sharing pact now being negotiated should be fair and mutually agreeable.


U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak to U.S. troops and their families stationed in South Korea in Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, June 30, 2019. (Photo: VCG)

A South Korean lawmaker said last week that U.S. officials demanded up to five billion U.S. dollars a year, more than five times what Seoul agreed to pay this year under a one-year deal. 

U.S. President Donald Trump's insistence on Seoul taking on a greater contribution as deterrence against the DPRK has rattled South Korea. It could also set a precedent for upcoming U.S. negotiations on defense cost-sharing with other allies. 

South Korea and the U.S. will hold a new round of negotiations in Seoul next week over the cost-sharing issue, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said Friday, according to Yonhap. 

On the other hand, Jeong said he and Esper discussed personal views on South Korea's decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, called GSOMIA, and that both governments will put in a real effort to narrow differences before the pact expires on November 23. 

Esper urged Seoul and Tokyo to renew the pact. "GSOMIA is an important tool by which South Korea, the U.S., and Japan share effective information, particularly in times of war. Expiration of GSOMIA will have an impact on our effectiveness, so we urge all sides to sit down and work through their differences," he said. 

Relations between the two neighbors have plunged after South Korea's top court last year ordered Japanese firms to compensate some wartime forced laborers, and Japan curbed exports of key industrial materials to South Korea in July.