The US and South Korea have reached a tentative deal to boost Seoul’s financial support for America’s military presence in the country, in a bid to resolve a big source of friction between the allies during Donald Trump’s presidency.
The state department said the proposed deal reflected the Biden administration’s “commitment to reinvigorating and modernising our democratic alliances around the world”.
“This proposed agreement, containing a negotiated meaningful increase in host nation support contributions from the Republic of Korea, reaffirms that the US-Republic of Korea Alliance is the linchpin of peace, security and prosperity for north-east Asia and a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the state department said.
The proposed deal, which has not been finalised or signed, according to officials involved in the talks, follows a tense period under the Trump administration during which ties between Washington and Seoul were strained.
The former president, who demanded that South Korea quintuple the amount it paid for hosting US troops, rebuked allies for not spending more on defence and floated the idea of potentially removing forces from the country despite the threat of China’s expanding military.
The Trump administration’s refusal to budge in the negotiations caused concern among other longstanding US defence partners, including Japan and Nato countries, which have similar defence cost-sharing arrangements.
The Special Measures Agreement, the cost-sharing deal between the US and South Korea, was renegotiated every five years from 1991 to 2018.
In 2019, only a one-year arrangement was reached after the two sides failed to agree on a way to meet Trump’s demands. An ad hoc arrangement was reached to cover the final period of the Trump presidency and avoid disruptions to US bases in South Korea.
The cost-sharing deal comes against a backdrop of stalled progress in talks over nuclear proliferation and sanctions with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator.
The allies’ joint annual springtime joint military exercises began on the Korean peninsula on Monday.
The drills continue to be scaled back as a gesture towards North Korea, even thought the downsizing has sparked concerns among some military experts that the readiness of US and South Korean troops to respond to an attack could be reduced.