South Korea to boost funding for US troops under new accord: State Department

The new arrangement calls for Seoul to boost its contribution to the cost of US forces stationed in the country. PHOTO: AFP/US FORCES KOREA

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - South Korea will increase its contribution to the cost of US forces stationed in the country under an agreement reached with the United States, the State Department said on Sunday (March 7).

The agreement reflects the Biden administration's "commitment to reinvigorating and modernising our democratic alliances around the word to advance our shared security and prosperity," a State Department representative said.

The proposed six-year Special Measures Agreement will replace the previous arrangement that expired at the end of 2019, removing a major irritant in US-South Korea ties.

The representative said the proposed agreement included a "negotiated meaningful increase in host nation support contributions," but gave no further details.

The negotiations had been gridlocked after former US President Donald Trump rejected Seoul's offer to pay 13 per cent more, for a total of about US$1 billion (S$1.34 billion) a year, and demanded as much as US$5 billion.

Seoul currently pays Washington about US$920 million a year.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the agreement in principle earlier on Sunday, said the deal must still be approved by the South Korean legislature.

The State Department said the two countries were now working on the final steps to conclude the agreement for signature.

South Korea's chief envoy Jeong Eun-bo told reporters on Thursday that his country was seeking to iron out remaining differences and sign a deal with Washington on sharing costs for stationing 28,500 American troops.

Jeong made the comment as he arrived in Washington for the first face-to-face talks with US envoy Donna Welton since President Joe Biden's administration took office in January.

They held their first video conference last month.

After the last pact expired, some 4,000 South Koreans working for the US military were placed on unpaid leave, prompting the two countries to scramble for a stopgap agreement to let them return to work.

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