Top Democrats push Trump administration on lapsed cost-sharing deal with South Korea

Top Democrats push Trump administration on lapsed cost-sharing deal with South Korea
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Four top Democrats are raising “serious concerns” about the Trump administration not reaching a cost-sharing agreement with South Korea for U.S. troops based there.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTop admiral: 'No condition' where US should conduct nuclear test 'at this time' Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Oldest living US World War II veteran turns 111 MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Trump steps up Iran fight in final election stretch MORE on Wednesday, the Democrats expressed their “disappointment that the administration has failed to conclude negotiations over a Special Measures Agreement (SMA) between the United States and the Republic of Korea over four months after the expiration of the prior agreement.”

“We know that you appreciate the critical importance of the U.S.-Korea alliance,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezKasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage MORE (D-N.J.), Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedWhen 'Buy American' and common sense collide Hillicon Valley: Russia 'amplifying' concerns around mail-in voting to undermine election | Facebook and Twitter take steps to limit Trump remarks on voting | Facebook to block political ads ahead of election Top Democrats press Trump to sanction Russian individuals over 2020 election interference efforts MORE (D-R.I.), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelHouse panel halts contempt proceedings against Pompeo after documents turned over Engel subpoenas US global media chief Michael Pack The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWhen 'Buy American' and common sense collide Overnight Defense: Marine Corps brushes off criticism of Marines' appearance in GOP convention video | US troops injured in collision with Russian vehicle in Syria | Dems ask for probe of Vindman retaliation allegations Democrats press Pentagon watchdog to probe allegations of retaliation against Vindman brothers MORE (D-Wash.) wrote. “It is an alliance forged in the blood of shared sacrifice, and a healthy, strong, and robust alliance with the Republic of Korea is the linchpin for U.S. national security interests in the Indo-Pacific.”

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The last cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement, lapsed Dec. 31 after President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally MORE initially sought a South Korean contribution of about $5 billion, or about 400 percent more than what Seoul paid in the now-expired agreement. Both sides say the administration’s demands have since softened, but a new deal has yet to be reached.

At the beginning of the month, the U.S. military furloughed thousands of South Korean workers at its bases on the peninsula due to the lack of an agreement.

On Friday, Reuters reported that South Korea recently offered to increase its payment by 13 percent from the previous deal, but Trump rejected the offer.

“It is our understanding that the Republic of Korea recently made a significant offer to the United States to resolve the impasse in negotiations and conclude an agreement,” the Democrats wrote in their letter Wednesday. “However, it appears that the White House rejected the offer as well as a proposal to mitigate the impact of lapsed funding.”

Asked about the 13 percent offer at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, Esper deferred comment to the State Department, but reiterated his stance that South Korea “can and should pay more to help for our mutual defense and their specific defense.”

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“South Korea is a close and trusted ally of ours, but they are a wealthy country,” Esper said.

In their letter, the Democrats said they “agree in principle” that South Korea “can and should take on additional responsibilities and meet an increased share of the burden of maintaining a robust alliance.”

“Yet, we are deeply concerned that if we are unable to reach a fair and mutually acceptable agreement on a new SMA soon, then the continued friction will erode the proper functioning of the alliance itself,” they wrote. “This could include readiness challenges and place the lives of United States service members, as well as our security interests, at increased risk. The only winners in that scenario are our adversaries. These are serious concerns that we expect you share."

The lawmakers asked for Esper and Pompeo’s plans to reach a new agreement with South Korea, as well as their assessment on increased risks created by the impasse in negotiations, plans to mitigate those risks and potential effects from lasting mitigation efforts.

The impasse comes as the United States and South Korea are battling the coronavirus, which has threatened both nations' military readiness by delaying exercises even as North Korea proceeds apace with missile tests.

North Korea’s latest test came Tuesday, but Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said he did not find that one “particularly provocative.” South Korea said the test appeared to involve cruise missiles, which North Korea is not banned from having by the United Nations Security Council.