Trump Says South Korea Is Paying $500 Million More for U.S. Troops. The Deal Says Otherwise.

SEOUL, South Korea — South Koreans were left flustered on Wednesday after President Trump asserted that he had made their government pay $500 million more to help cover the cost of maintaining American troops in the country.

The claim contradicted the terms of a cost-sharing deal South Korea and the United States signed on Sunday after months of contentious negotiations. Under the one-year deal, this year South Korea will pay 1.04 trillion won, or $925 million, an increase of $70 million from last year’s $855 million.

“They agreed to pay, yesterday, $500 million more toward their defense. Five-hundred million, with a couple of phone calls,” Mr. Trump said during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, adding that the increase came at his request. “I said, ‘Why didn’t you do this before?’ They said, ‘Nobody asked.’ So — it’s got to go up. It’s got to go up.”

Mr. Trump also said he would continue to press South Korea to increase its contribution in the coming years.

“And over the years, it will start going up, and they will be terrific,” he said.

Mr. Trump made the comments while highlighting his efforts to strike better trade and military deals with American allies. But his assertions confused both South Korean officials and the South Korean news media.

Mr. Trump also said South Korea had been paying only $500 million, or one-tenth, of the $5 billion he said was needed annually to maintain American military bases in South Korea. But South Korea says its contribution covers nearly half the total cost of such operations.

Both the United States Embassy and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha of South Korea reconfirmed the 1.04 trillion won figure on Wednesday. Ms. Kang said her government needed to find out how Mr. Trump came up with different figures.

Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in, pushed back at Mr. Trump’s suggestion that South Korea would have to increase its contributions in the coming years, saying that it “shouldn’t be taken as a fait accompli.” He said the deal struck on Sunday, under which South Korea agreed to an 8 percent increase in its contribution, was valid only for this year, with the possibility of an extension for another year if both sides agreed.

This is not the first time South Koreans have been flummoxed by Mr. Trump’s claims.

In an interview aired early this month on CBS News, Mr. Trump complained about the “very expensive” costs of keeping 40,000 troops in South Korea. But American troops in South Korea number only 28,500.

Mr. Trump has tended to exaggerate his diplomatic achievements, particularly on matters involving the Korean Peninsula.

After his first summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, he said the North Korean nuclear crisis had been “largely solved.” He also said on Twitter that there was “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

But at that meeting, held in Singapore in June, Mr. Kim promised only to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and subsequent talks have stalled over how to implement that agreement.

During the negotiations for the defense cost-sharing deal, Washington had asked that South Korea increase its contribution by 50 percent, South Korean officials said.

South Korea successfully resisted that demand, but it would have preferred a multiyear deal to avoid having to negotiate every year. Instead, it hurried to sign the one-year deal for fear that Mr. Trump might propose a withdrawal or reduction of American troops in South Korea as a bargaining chip during his second summit meeting with Mr. Kim, which is scheduled for later this month in Vietnam.

Source: Read Full Article