US soldiers 2nd Infantry Division, Stryker Battalion Combat Team from Fort Lewis, Washington participate in Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise on March 7, 2011 in Pocheon, South Korea. (CHUNG SUNG-JUN / GETTY IMAGES)
The US dismissed a report that it was considering a withdraw of thousands of its troops to gain leverage with the Republic of Korea as the Trump administration seeks to have it pay five times more to host American service members.
The ROK’s daily Chosun Ilbo reported Thursday the US was considering withdrawing one of its brigades if ongoing defense cost talks with Seoul don’t go as it wants. Jonathan Hoffman, chief Pentagon spokesman, later said in a statement that “there is absolutely no truth” to the report, which the paper attributed to a diplomatic source in Washington familiar with the talks.
We aren’t threatening allies over this. This is a negotiation
Mark Esper, US Defense Secretary
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper “reiterated our ironclad commitment” to the ROK and its people during discussions in Seoul last week, Hoffman said. Earlier Thursday, the defense chief had told reporters that the US wasn’t using troop levels as a bargaining chip in funding talks with host countries.
“We aren’t threatening allies over this. This is a negotiation,” he said.
Last week, questions were raised about the stability of one of America’s most important military alliances when US negotiators walked out of a meeting in Seoul on cost-sharing. The ROK balked at a Trump administration demand for a five-fold increase in funding.
The current cost-sharing agreement reached earlier this year expires at the end of 2019. The ROK’s Defense Ministry said that despite the latest acrimony, the US has vowed in its latest meeting that its forces would stay.
President Donald Trump has demanded the ROK contribute about US$5 billion for hosting US troops, well above the current one-year deal where Seoul pays about US$1 billion. The price tag originated with the White House, according to people familiar with the matter, and administration officials justify it by saying it reflects the costs the ROK would incur if it takes operational control of combined US-ROK forces in the case of a conflict.
The US has about 28,500 service members in the ROK.
Trump has repeatedly expressed frustration with the open-ended troop deployment, saying after his first meeting with Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un last year that he would “like to bring them back home, but that’s not part of the equation right now.” At the same time, he has accepted a long-standing Kim demand and suspended major joint military exercises that the US and the ROK have relied on to maintain readiness.
HONG KONG NEWS