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Biden's Asia policy

US doesn't make 'demands' on ally South Korea: State Department

Two sides strike deal to share troop-hosting costs for six years

The flags of the U.S. and South Korea are seen together in Seoul. The two sides have agreed to the text of a new six-year Special Measures Agreement. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

NEW YORK -- The U.S. and South Korea have reached a consensus on the proposed text of a new six-year Special Measures Agreement, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday, referring to the framework under which Seoul burdens part of the expenditures associated with the stationing of American troops on the Korean Peninsula.

Price said it will "strengthen our alliance and our shared defense," adding that the two sides are now pushing the final steps needed to conclude the agreement for signature, and for entry into force.

When asked whether the Biden administration took a less-demanding stance in the negotiations compared with the Trump administration, Price said, "The South Koreans are our allies. So, in the context of a relationship with a close ally, with a treaty ally, like the South Koreans, I don't think the United States would make demands."

He added: "I don't think that would help to strengthen the underlying alliance. We have engaged in good faith, constructive negotiations," and that the agreement would benefit both sides.

On Sunday, the State Department's political-military affairs bureau had tweeted that the agreed-upon text includes a "negotiated increase" in South Korea's support for U.S. Forces Korea, but did not indicate the figure. The South Korean side said they will announce the details after going through internal procedures.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks at the Daily Press Briefing at the U.S. Department of State in Washington on Feb. 3. (Photo courtesy of the State Department) 

In November 2019, under the administration of former President Donald Trump, the U.S. delegation cut short a meeting with South Korea because Seoul's proposals "were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden-sharing," then-U.S. negotiator James DeHart told reporters.

Seoul currently pays Washington about $920 million a year.

Trump had demanded a more-than-fivefold increase to $5 billion a year, which the South Koreans found unacceptable. The SMA expired at the end of 2019.

In 2020, the Korean side proposed a 13% increase compared to the 2019 figure, but Trump had pressed for more.

This time, the two sides had been talking in Washington since last Friday.

The two countries are discussing the visit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to South Korea during their Asia tour later this month.

There are about 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

South Korea began paying for the U.S. troop presence in the early 1990s, after rebuilding its war-devastated economy. The two countries signed a treaty of mutual defense at the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which provided the basis for the stationing of U.S. forces in South Korea.

Washington reached agreement last month with Japan on its contribution for the stationing of U.S. forces there, keeping Tokyo's annual costs steady at about $1.9 billion.

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