Trump is urging South Korea to pay approximately 500% more in 2020 to cover the cost of keeping US troops on the Peninsula, a congressional aide and an administration official confirmed to CNN.
Price rises frustrate Pentagon officials and deeply concerned Republican and Democratic lawmakers, according to military officials and congressional aides. This has angered and upset Seoul, where leaders question the US commitment to their alliance and wonder if Trump will pull US forces off if they do not pay.
"Nothing says I love you as a shake," said Vipin Narang, an associate professor at MIT who follows the Korean Peninsula, summarizing South Korea's insecurity about their concerns about the United States.
In the United States, congressional aides and experts in Korea, familiar with the negotiations, say the president's $ 4.7 billion demand went off the air, sending State and Defense officials to justify the number with many new charges, which may include paying Seoul some expenses for US personnel present on the peninsula and for troops and equipment rotating through.
Negotiations are ongoing as North Korean threats to accelerate weapons development have deepened Seoul's concern. On Thursday, Pyongyang condemned joint military exercises between the US and South Korea, saying it was "angry" and threatened to respond with "force in kind."
North Korea has already released 24 missiles this year, each in violation of UN resolutions to match the country's previous annual record for launching missiles that threaten South Korea and Japan, according to Bruce Klingner, senior an associate of the Heritage Foundation,
Germany, France and the United Kingdom recently condemned Pyongyang for the launches, saying they undermine regional security and stability. Meanwhile, South Korean leaders are keenly aware that Trump has downplayed the start, saying he "is not concerned at all.
"There are very serious feelings," Klingner said of South Korean views on the US at the moment, adding that "people are questioning the viability of the US as an ally." North Korea launches 2 unidentified shells, South Korea says ”
"The main side effect I see is that it raises questions about trust Snyder said, "And that's not good for relations."
Administration officials said the argument was that the United States was doing a lot to ensure South Korean security that didn't has been accurately reported for decades. "It was one time when Korea was recovering from the war, but now they are one of the world's leading economies," the official said.
"The Koreans have stated themselves that they ultimately want to take on Korea's security and stand as a peer in the security field," the official said. "Now they have to make some fundamental investments to get to where they say. that they want to be, so this is an opportunity for them. "
A spokesman for the State Department leading the negotiations said that" sustaining the costs of our global military attendance is not a burden that should only fall on the taxpayer This is a responsibility that should be shared fairly with allies and partners who take advantage of our presence. "
The Korean Embassy did not return requests for comment.
The cost-sharing agreement between the US and South Korea has existed for decades, and until Trump renegotiates every five years. During the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump said he would withdraw US troops from the Peninsula if he did not receive 100% compensation for their presence.
Last year, when the Special Measures Agreement struck up a negotiation, Trump demanded a 50% increase from Seoul. In the end, the two sides agreed that South Korea would pay 8% over the cost of the previous year, but that the agreement would be renegotiated annually.
This year, Trump raised the asking price from about $ 1 billion to $ 5 billion before being persuaded by State Department and Pentagon officials to win it to $ 4.7 billion, according to a congressional aide and an administration official .
Esper, like other administration officials, declined to confirm the figure publicly, saying only Wednesday that "we have asked for a significant increase in cost sharing for our deployed troops."
The "reverse process"
Klingner is one of several experts in Korea who suggests that Trump took the figure out of the air. Employees at relevant agencies and congressional assistants who follow Asia are equally confused. "I have no idea where the president got that number from," said a congressional aide.
"It seems pretty clear … this country and the DOD were working to figure out how to justify the $ 5 billion figure … not like," We were developing a new concept that included the following 17 categories and that's what's coming "It was a reverse process," said the aide, who shocked that "the president wants $ 5 billion, and how can we justify that to the Koreans? They threw everything out there that allowed them to argue with the right person that it covered the burden." of Union spending. "
To justify the price, the staff at the state and the Pentagon expanded the costs that Seoul would cover" from basing, sewage, the usual things to include "readiness", "said the aide. Administration officials would not confirm this.
This could mean charging Seoul for joint military exercises, including rotational forces not always present on the peninsula. "So if we had bombers stopped at the peninsula as a demonstration of force. I guess as an Uber driver, we would invoice them for the trip, "said the assistant.
The United States may also ask South Korea to pay for" a full range of staffing costs for U.S. personnel stationed on the peninsula, "the assistant said. In response, the aide said, the Koreans asked, "Are you mercenaries now? Is this a business deal? ""
Military officials told CNN they were in trouble because of the request and that it has been affected The decision-making of the foreign policy of the president may be increasingly shaped by his fears about the 2020 election campaign or the pressure for impeachment.
The congressional aide said Pentagon officials also expressed discomfort on Capitol Hill. "Career professionals and careers: they're on their own," said the assistant, "but [Trump is] commander-in-chief, so they're in a box."
"Koreans are outraged," the aide continued, especially since the elections came in April and did not consider the spending increase justified in their National Assembly.
External Relations Council expert Snyder said that historically, the cost-sharing formula has increased from 5% to 10%, but "the gap between 5% and almost 500% … stretches the boundaries of political credibility . "
A particular obstacle, Snyder said, is any claim that Seoul pays for assets "that can be used in the event of a conflict but are not actually based in Korea. This is the most sensitive issue if you are talking about a Korean taxpayer. "
Sep. Edward Marki, a leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Asia, said he was "worried about President Trump's request. … If South Korea decides it is better without the US, President Trump will undermine over 60 years "An annual shared commitment to peace, stability and the rule of law. The region is less secure when countries lose confidence in America's ability to govern. "
Sen. Corey Gardner of Colorado, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Asia, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Neither the second Republican on the subcommittee, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, or the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator James Rish of Idaho.
Closed doors, however, the congressional aide echoed another colleague at Capitol Hill, saying "there is great concern here for both Democratic and Republican staff. People … are not happy. They think it's really dangerous. "