Washington and Seoul have agreed to a cost-sharing agreement for US forces based in South Korea, a US State Department spokesperson confirmed to CNN on Sunday.
Negotiations over the Special Measures Agreement, or SMA, had badly strained the US alliance with South Korea during the Trump administration after former President Donald Trump demanded Seoul pay up to 400% more for the presence of the 28,500 troops on the peninsula. News of the agreement comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to make his first international trip as the top US diplomat to South Korea and Japan next week.
CNN previously reported that the agreement would likely be a multi-year deal that increased Seoul’s contribution to cover the presence of US troops at around the 13% increase South Korea had suggested in 2020 as its best possible offer, according to two sources familiar with the talks. The final agreement could also include mandated increases in South Korea’s defense budget, as well as an understanding that Seoul will make certain military equipment purchases, one of the sources said.
The Wall Street Journal first reported an agreement had been reached.
“We are pleased that U.S. and Republic of Korea negotiators have reached consensus on a proposed text of a Special Measures Agreement that will strengthen our Alliance and our shared defense,” the spokesperson said. “America’s alliances are a tremendous source of our strength. This development reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to reinvigorating and modernizing our democratic alliances around the word to advance our shared security and prosperity.”
Reaching a cost-sharing agreement fits into the Biden administration’s goal of repairing alliances and returning to “regular order” — engaging with allies using established, formal and accountable structures.
Seoul’s cost-sharing conversations with the Biden administration began last month alongside a White House review of North Korea policy.
The policy review was already underway when the United Nations released a February report saying Pyongyang has continued to seek and develop nuclear material and technology and is expected to take months to complete, two sources familiar with the administration’s thinking told CNN.
Agreeing on a joint strategy for North Korea is expected to be more challenging than striking a cost-sharing agreement, according to regional experts.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in faces an election later this year and is eager to deliver a diplomatic accomplishment with North Korea in the short term, while the Biden administration has said it will take its time in developing a strategy.
The cautious approach marks a significant departure from the previous administration.
On his final day in office, former President Barack Obama told then incoming-President Trump that he believed North Korea was the biggest threat to the US. Trump then made it a top priority, asking his secretary of defense to make his first international trip to South Korea and Japan less than a month into the administration.
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.