South Korea must pay more for US troop presence: Esper | News | DW | 15.11.2019
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South Korea must pay more for US troop presence: Esper

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has told the "wealthy country" it can afford to pay more for the stationing of US troops. Washington's 28,500-strong military presence costs Seoul under $1 billion a year.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday pressed South Korea to pay a bigger share of the cost of having US troops on its soil.

Speaking after a high-level defense policy meeting with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper said the South is a "wealthy country and could and should pay more."

Seoul currently contributes under $1 billion (€907 million) a year for US military support which began in 1951 during the three-year war between the two Koreas.

Some 28,500 American troops remain stationed in the South to buttress defenses against North Korea.

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Increase of 500%

South Korean media reports suggest Washington has demanded a new cost-sharing pact where Seoul commits to $5 billion next year.

Jeong, meanwhile, said he and Esper had agreed that the new commitment being negotiated should be fair and mutually agreeable, without giving a possible figure.

The demand by US President Donald Trump that Seoul takes on a greater contribution has rattled the South. It could also set a precedent for upcoming US negotiations on defense cost-sharing with other allies.

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Drills and intelligence sharing discussed

Friday's meeting also covered the shared US-South Korea military drills that the two sides agreed earlier this year to scale back in support of diplomatic efforts to end the standoff with Pyongyang.

Esper said the two countries have to be flexible in modifying their joint military drills even as North Korea on Thursday rejected the US calls for fresh talks over its disputed nuclear program.

The defense secretary also called for Seoul to maintain an intelligence-sharing pact with Washington's other Asian ally, Japan, that Seoul is about to let lapse. 

He called on both governments to put in realistic efforts to narrow differences before the pact, known as GSOMIA, expires on November 23.

Relations between South Korea and Japan have plunged after Seoul's top court last year ordered Japanese firms to compensate some wartime forced laborers, and Japan curbed exports of high-tech materials to South Korea in July.

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'Rabid dog' Biden

Separately on Friday, North Korea launched an attack on former US Vice President Joe Biden, calling him a "rabid dog'' that "must be beaten to death with a stick.''

The commentary by the official Korean Central News Agency said the US presidential hopeful "reeled off a string of rubbish against the dignity'' of the North's supreme leadership, an act it said deserves "merciless punishment.''

It wasn't immediately clear which of Biden's comments provoked Pyongyang's anger, although the Democrat has accused Trump of cozying up to "dictators and tyrants.''

The North has previously made racist and sexist diatribes against former US President Barack Obama and ex-South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the country's first female leader.

mm/ng (AP, Reuters)

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