Nov. 7 (UPI) — Concern is growing in South Korea as local media report U.S. officials may have asked Seoul to pay as much as $ 4.7 billion for the cost of keeping U.S. troops on and beyond the peninsula.
The number far surpasses the current amount South Korea contributes on an annual basis, about $ 1 billion. Washington is also asking South Korea to cover the costs of U.S. troops stationed outside the peninsula, Newsis reported Friday.
South Korean diplomatic sources who spoke to local network JTBC said the United States wants Seoul to cover the cost of operating U.S. forces in the Strait of Hormuz, between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
The U.S. demands came this week, when U.S. State Department officials, including David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and James DeHart, a U.S. negotiator on defense cost-sharing, were in Seoul to meet with senior officials including Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
Kang did not mention specific numbers, but said it is “correct” Washington is “going beyond the level” of cost-sharing that would be within the bounds of the U.S.-South Korea Special Measures Agreement.
On Thursday, Kang told Seoul’s parliamentary budget committee the U.S. request included “offshore burdens” and that “so far the [United States is] explaining its position.”
Kang added the issues would be addressed in an “existing framework” so that the two sides can “agree on a reasonable and affordable increase.”
U.S. cost-sharing demands are being met with disapproval from Seoul’s ruling and opposition parties, groups that are often at odds over a number of policy issues.
Lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun, a conservative with the Liberty Korea Party, said it would be “difficult” to win national support for a five-fold increase in military cost sharing, or ratify it in parliament.
Sul Hoon, a ruling Democratic Party lawmaker, said a five-fold increase in cost sharing is “excessive and unfair.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper is expected to continue discussions in Seoul next week, according to local paper Hankyoreh.