SEOUL – South Korea and the United States failed on Wednesday to reach an agreement over Seoul’s contribution toward hosting some 28,500 U.S. troops, ending two days of talks that were the last before their existing deal expires on Dec. 31.
South Korean lawmakers have said Washington is seeking up to $5 billion a year, more than five times the amount Seoul agreed to pay this year.
As part of his “America First” policy, U.S. President Donald Trump has demanded that many American allies, including NATO members and Japan, pay more toward defense.
He has frequently accused South Korea of being a rich nation that is profiting off the U.S. military forces, which are stationed in the country as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War and continued threats from North Korea.
The lack of a deal in talks led by South Korea’s chief negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, could result in a repeat of last year when the two countries missed a year-end deadline but reached a retroactive agreement in the new year.
Some experts, both U.S. and Korean, have warned that if no agreement is reached, it could throw the entire future of the U.S. presence in South Korea into doubt.
The next set of talks will be in the United States in January, with the exact timing still to be determined.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said their negotiators emphasized the need for “fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable agreements,” that will strengthen the alliance.
“The two sides have expanded their understanding of each other through many discussions despite differences in their positions on various issues, and decided to continue close consultations,” it said in a statement.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul declined to comment.
The dispute has been a rare public sign of discord in the “airtight” alliance that has for 70 years formed a buffer against North Korean aggression. The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war under a truce, not a peace treaty, that ended the Korean War.
There have been several public protests in South Korea against the U.S. calls for more money.
South Koreans overwhelmingly oppose paying more, a survey released on Monday by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs found, with only 4 percent of respondents saying Seoul should meet Trump’s demands.
Still, 74 percent of those questioned said they support the long-term stationing of American troops in South Korea.
If no deal is reached, the most immediate effect may be on thousands of South Korean civilians who work for the U.S. military and who could be placed on unpaid leave.