North Korean state media on Wednesday weighed into an increasingly contentious debate between the U.S. and South Korea over military cost-sharing on the peninsula, condemning Washington’s demands that Seoul contribute more as “anachronistic.”
The Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), said American demands that South Korea shoulder more of the costs of U.S. troop presence in Korea demonstrated its “real intention to consider South Korea not as ‘ally’ but as a means to satisfy its greed.”
The U.S. and South Korea previously failed to agree on how much of the cost of stationing United States Forces Korea (USFK) will be borne by Seoul, in cost-sharing negotiations held in the ROK capital last month.
The first round of talks, aimed at laying the framework for the 10th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) —intended to take effect in 2019 — kicked off in March last year, following the 9th five-year SMA’s expiration.
Washington has in recent months demanded that Seoul increase its contribution to the costs of U.S. military presence on the peninsula – echoing President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge that he would make American allies pay more for their defense.
North Korean media on Wednesday said these demands “run counter to the current flow of alleviating tensions on the Korean peninsula.”
“Under these conditions, it is anachronistic that [Washington] request to increase ‘defense-cost sharing’ by raising the issue of the cost for deploying the U.S. strategic assets on the Korean peninsula.”
The U.S. should, instead, “provide enormous compensation to South Korean people for its numerous damages caused by its occupation,” the Rodong argued, arguing that the increase in the burden sharing would impact the “South Korean economy, which is facing a grave crisis and people suffering from hardships of life.”
The Rodong article follows commentaries in other North Korean state-run outlets, including the DPRK Today, Uriminzokkiri, and Arirang-Meari, on Sunday and Monday denouncing U.S. demands.
It also comes after the floor leader of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party of Korea Hong Yong-pyo on Tuesday said the U.S. had made an “unacceptable demand all of sudden” at the latest meeting between the allies over the issue.
Hong said Washington had requested Seoul pay more than KRW 1.4 trillion (USD $1.2 billion), around 1.5 times its current contribution of USD$830 million a year.
Tuesday also saw multiple South Korean media outlets report that U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris had proposed Seoul pay around USD$1 billion during a meeting with director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong in December.
Spokesperson for the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Noh Kyu-duk the same day confirmed that the meeting had taken place, though declined to share further details on the content of the talks.
“As the [stationing] of the United States Forces Korea is an issue of the ROK-U.S. alliance, it is not the one that can be discussed at nuclear negotiations with North Korea,” Noh continued.
“Based on mutual respect and understanding, both the ROK and the U.S., as allies, strive to reach a rational compromise which can be mutually acceptable at the earliest possible date.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha also discussed issue over the phone on Monday, reportedly agreeing to make efforts to come to an agreement.
Kang on Monday admitted to a “very major differences between the ROK and the U.S.” having emerged in the negotiations following a closed-door briefing at the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.
In the aftermath of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s calls in his New Year speech for an end to the deployment of “strategic assets from outside” and an end to the ROK-U.S. joint military drills, state-run outlets have stepped up criticism of military cooperation between Seoul and Washington.
South Korea and the U.S. are yet to make any official announcement on whether scheduled joint military drills will go ahead.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: U.S. Pacific Command
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