The United States and South Korea will begin negotiations this week on sharing the costs to station about 28,500 American troops on the divided peninsula, the foreign ministry said Monday.
Talks about shouldering the burden between the two allies have often been bumpy, but they’re expected to be more contentious this year as President Donald Trump has signaled that he may press for the South to increase its contribution.
The countries also face concerns about a possible rift as South Korea presses ahead with efforts to engage with the North despite Washington’s hard line over the communist state’s nuclear weapons program.
The current special measures agreement, which was reached in 2014 and has South Korea paying about $890 million this year, or just under half of the total, is due to expire on Dec. 31.
The first round of renewal talks will be held from Wednesday to Friday in Honolulu with foreign ministry official Chang Won-sam leading the South Korean side and State Department official Timothy Betts leading the U.S. delegation, according to a press release.
“The delegations from the two sides will be trying to reach an agreement that helps strengthen the South Korean-U.S. alliance and joint defense readiness,” it said. “Our government will try to produce reasonable results that can be accepted by our people.”
It didn’t say how long they’re expected to last, but the final deal must be ratified by South Korean legislators. The 2014 agreement took months to gain approval amid South Korean concerns over a lack of transparency about how the funds are spent by the U.S. side.
South Korea has seen its share of the non-personnel costs for U.S. forces in South Korea rise to around 960 billion won (nearly $890 million) this year from 150 billion won in 1991, the first year the SMA was implemented.
Most of the money is used to pay for South Korean labor, rent, utilities and the construction of barracks and other military facilities.
South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo also reportedly expressed concern last month that the U.S. may demand that Seoul pay more for the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system known as the THAAD in a remote southeastern area.
Trump raised concern in South Korea during the presidential campaign when he criticized what he called the unbalanced nature of the security alliance, saying Seoul and other allies should pay more for their defense.
Since taking office, Trump has toned down his rhetoric on the issue while focusing on amending a bilateral free-trade agreement between the countries.
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