S. Korea, US sign deal on Seoul paying more for US military

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea and the U.S. on Friday formally signed a deal on Seoul’s increased payment for the U.S. troop deployment, amid worries about the future of the countries’ decades-long military alliance.

President Donald Trump earlier pressured Seoul to increase its share, triggering concerns in South Korea that he might withdraw some of the 28,500 U.S. troops here if Seoul refused to accept his demand. Experts say Trump will likely again apply pressure when the two countries meet in coming months to determine Seoul’s contribution next year.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris signed the new cost-sharing deal on Friday.

During a signing ceremony, Kang called the deal “the results of hard work and sometimes difficult work” that “the alliance can build upon to become stronger and greater.” Harries said the deal’s signing underscores “the importance of iron-clad nature of our alliance.”

Earlier this week, the two countries eliminated their huge springtime military drills and replaced them with smaller training in what they called a bid to back diplomatic efforts to strip North Korea of its nuclear weapons. Trump tweeted that “the reason I do not want military drills with South Korea is to save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S. for which we are not reimbursed.”

After his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last year, Trump unilaterally announced the suspension of another major U.S.-South Korea exercise, calling joint drills “very provocative” and “massively expensive.”

Many experts think the lack of comprehensive joint exercises will eventually likely weaken the allies’ military readiness if diplomacy fails and tensions with North Korea return.

Trump’s second summit with Kim in Vietnam last week ended without any agreement.

North Korea’s state media on Thursday called the new, smaller U.S.-South Korea exercise “a wanton violation” of previous agreements to ease tensions and remove hostility among them. The statement was much milder than its past warlike statements issued in response to the just-ended South Korea-U.S. drills that North Korea viewed as an invasion rehearsal.

The cost-sharing deal, which involves the spending of South Korean taxpayer money, requires parliamentary approval in South Korea, but not in the United States. The deal will likely easily pass through South Korea’s parliament as the main conservative opposition party highly values a stronger alliance with the United States.