Published: Tue, February 12, 2019
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

South Koreans largely optimistic about Trump-Kim summit

South Koreans largely optimistic about Trump-Kim summit

In their meeting, Kang said the allies were able to close the gap on the size of South Korea's contribution thanks to goodwill and trust.

The signing ceremony for the deal was held Sunday afternoon at the foreign ministry in Seoul by both countries' negotiators, Chang Won-sam and Timothy Betts. Unlike prior deals, which have lasted five years, the one signed on February 10 expires in one year.

But on Sunday, South Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement that the United States had affirmed it would not be changing the scale of its troop presence. The North and its main backer, China, also would like to see the USA military presence removed from their doorstep.

"If the cost of increasing the defense spending to match whatever firepower the United States forces were able to provide on the Korean Peninsula is larger than the increase [in cost-sharing], it makes no mathematical sense for South Korea to not contribute more to the cost-sharing agreement", Kim said. South Korean officials pushed for a three-year deal keeping their annual contribution around $864 million.

"The United States government realizes that Korea does a lot for our alliance and peace and stability in the region", chief US negotiator Timothy Betts said Sunday in Seoul. A five-year 2014 deal that covered South Korea's payment last year expired at the end of 2018.

South Korea insists it pays a fair share of the some $2 billion per year needed to keep the troops in the country, with funds mainly used for salaries of almost 9,000 local employees who provide food and administrative services, and other logistical needs.

Some conservatives in South Korea voiced concerns over a weakening alliance with the United States at the same time as negotiations with North Korea to deprive it of its nuclear weapons hit a stalemate.

The agreement comes weeks before Trump is set to hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, Feb. 27.

When asked about the possibility in an interview with CBS last week, Trump said he has "no plans" to withdraw troops from the peninsula and hasn't even discussed the issue. During his election campaign, Trump suggested he could pull back troops from South Korea and Japan unless they took on greater a share of the financial burdens of supporting USA soldiers deployed there. But with US President Donald Trump calling for his allies to pay an increased share of their defense costs, South Korea was under pressure to pay almost double the current amount, equivalent to nearly $1.4 billion a year. Seoul's Foreign Ministry said the USA had called for a sharp increase in South Korean spending but didn't elaborate.

Trump's top envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, visited Pyongyang last week to work out details of the upcoming summit.

The US military arrived in South Korea to disarm Japan, which colonised the Korean peninsula from 1910-45, following its second world war defeat.

Late a year ago, the USA military had warned Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal was agreed. Betts also said the pleased with the results, acknowledging Seoul's contribution to the alliance.

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