SEOUL/WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the United States and South Korea are set to hold yet another round of talks this week on how much each should pay toward the maintenance of American troops in the Asian country, South Korean President Moon Jae-in stated on Tuesday that their positions on the matter were still far apart despite certain progress in negotiations.
“There is certain progress in negotiations between the US and South Korea, but the difference between positions is still big. South Korea believes that its share [of spending] has to be reasonable and fair, as per the current agreement. This is the only way our citizens can agree to it. Besides, it would need the parliament’s approval, so this course must be upheld. As the understanding of each other’s position deepens and the distance between them shortens, we will do every possible thing to reach an agreement as soon as possible,” Moon said at a press conference, Sputnik reported.
The president also commented on the possibility of sending South Korean troops to the Hormuz Strait for joining the US-led coalition, noting that the decision has not yet been made and is impacted by numerous factors.
“With regard to sending troops to the Strait of Hormuz, the most important thing is the security of our citizens and companies in the region, transportation of energy and oil supplies. It is also important to account for the alliance with the US, but since we have diplomatic relations with Iran too, it all must be assessed simultaneously when determining the course of action,” Moon added.
Amid a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz last year, the US called for establishing an “international coalition” (in reality, it would be exclusively made up of US allies and vassals) of patrol ships in the area to ensure “safe maritime passage” for commercial vessels.
As other countries started to join in, South Korea announced it would consider sending troops too, likely at the start of 2020, but has not yet made up its mind. The decision to send troops to Hormuz has widely been perceived as a bargain chip for Seoul to negotiate better terms in the military cost-sharing deal.
The maintenance of the United States Forces Korea is regulated under the bilateral Special Measures Agreement (SMA), renewable every five years. The latest SMA expired last December, but the cost-sharing became a matter of controversy long before that as Washington has been asking for much more than Seoul is prepared to pay. The next round of talks is scheduled for January 14-15 in the US.