|From left, main opposition Liberty Korea Party floor leader Rep. Na Kyung-won, left, and her counterparts from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party, Reps. Lee In-young and Oh Shin-hwan, respectively, hold a press briefing at Incheon International Airport, Wednesday, before embarking on a five-day trip to Washington to meet U.S. officials including Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the United States Senate. They will be there to call for "fair" negotiations for this year's Special Measures Agreement (SMA) between Seoul and Washington. Activists who oppose the alleged U.S. demand for $5 billion to cover next year's defense cost-sharing held a rally behind the floor leaders. Yonhap|
By Park Ji-won
Floor leaders of the major political parties headed to Washington D.C., Wednesday (KST), for scheduled meetings with senior officials on Capitol Hill and high-ranking U.S. government personnel after negotiations between Seoul and Washington over the cost-sharing for stationing U.S. troops here were broken off.
"Our trip is aimed at explaining the views of the South Korean National Assembly and political parties to officials from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on the defense cost-sharing issue. Based on a stronger mutual trust and respect, we will use our trip as an opportunity to get a consensus from them in narrowing the considerable difference in the two sides' negotiating positions," ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) floor leader Rep. Lee In-young told reporters before embarking on the trip.
During their five-day visit, Lee and his counterparts Na Kyung-won of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and Oh Shin-hwan of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (BMP), will meet with Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, and key House and Senate lawmakers, including Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the Senate.
On Tuesday, talks between Seoul and Washington over the defense cost-sharing issue abruptly broke down.
At the same time, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris repeatedly mentioned Seoul paying "$5 billion" over coffee with National Assembly Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Lee Hye-hoon. Harris also "invited" Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee and Rep. Lee Jong-koo, chairman of the Trade, Industry, Energy, SMEs, and Startups Committee to his residential office Nov. 6, where he talked about the need to increase Korea's payment in the defense cost-sharing, officials said.
The gap between the two sides stems from U.S. President Donald Trump's repeated demand that South Korea should raise its contribution at least fivefold from this year's $930 million. The demand caused anger among the public here, while political experts said the president's stance would risk jeopardizing the relationship between Seoul and Washington possibly "for the long term."
"We will deliver the country's message to Washington that the defense-cost negotiations should be held reasonably and fairly. Maintaining our strong alliance is important for both countries and that will benefit interests of South Korea and the United States at the same time," LKP floor leader Na told reporters.
Na also added that she was hoping the trip to the U.S. could also pave the way for a possible breakthrough in renewing the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), an intelligence-sharing pact between Seoul and Tokyo, before it officially expires.
Claiming there was no right or left in the country's diplomacy and security, BMP floor leader Oh said; "I will deliver the people's worries so that the excessive demand from Washington will not harm the alliance and the mutual benefits accrued from it." The floor leaders are expected to return, Nov. 24.
South Korea has contributed financially to the upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea under the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) since 1991, with most of the support being used to pay for Korean civilians working for the USFK, and logistical and administrative support, among other costs.
It also paid more than 92 percent of the $11 billion-plus construction costs for expanding Camp Humphreys, the cutting-edge new U.S. military headquarters based in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul.
In line with Washington-initiated Indo-Pacific Strategy, the United States is trying to broaden the scope of what's included in the SMA. Specifically, Seoul is being asked to pay for the deployment of U.S. military "strategic assets" flying over the Korean Peninsula from military bases in the Pacific such as Guam.
For this year, South Korea paid 8.2 percent more that in 2018 in its contribution to defense-cost sharing, but that agreement was only for a single one year, unlike previous contracts that covered a five-year period.