In this March 25, 2015 file photo, US and ROK soldiers take their position during a demonstration of the combined arms live-fire exercise as a part of the annual joint military exercise Foal Eagle between the ROK and the US at the Rodriquez Multi-Purpose Range Complex in Pocheon, north of Seoul, ROK. (LEE JIN-MAN / AP)
SEOUL – The Republic of Korea's presidential Blue House pushed back on Wednesday against comments by US President Donald Trump that suggested Seoul had agreed to pay US$500 million more towards maintaining US troops in the country.
Trump said at a cabinet meeting in Washington on Tuesday Seoul had agreed to pay US$500 million more as part of an agreement sharing the cost of keeping roughly 28,500 American troops stationed in the ROK.
Both sides will consider whether a raise is needed and it's also possible that they would agree to maintain the current level.
Kim Eui-kyeom, Spokesman, Blue House, ROK
"They were paying about US$500 million for US$5 billion worth of protection," Trump said. "And we have to do better than that. So they've agreed to pay US$500 million more."
Under the previous agreement – which lapsed amid disagreements in December – the ROK contributed 960 billion won (US$857 million) in 2018.
ROK and American officials initialed an agreement on Sunday under which Seoul would increase its contribution to just under 1.04 trillion won (US$927 million), an increase of about US$70.3 million.
Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the presidential Blue House in Seoul, said when asked about Trump's US$500 million figure that it "shouldn't be taken as a fait accompli".
Washington demanded during the negotiations that the ROK pay 50 percent more than its 2018 contribution, according to ROK officials. The new agreement amounts to an increase of about 8 percent.
The agreement signed on Sunday must still be approved by ROK parliament. Kim said it was valid for only one year, with the possibility of an extension for another year if both sides agreed.
"Both sides will consider whether a raise is needed and it's also possible that they would agree to maintain the current level," Kim said.
The two sides had struggled to reach a breakthrough, despite at least 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump's repeated calls for a sharp increase in the ROK’s contribution.
Trump said in his cabinet comments on Tuesday the relationship with the ROK was "great" but that the United States lost "a tremendous amount of money" defending its ally.
HONG KONG NEWS