U.S. President Donald Trump has been clear that he wants U.S. allies to contribute more to shared defense, the State Department said Thursday, indicating South Korea will not be an exception to the rule.
South Korea has come under growing pressure from the U.S. to pay more for the upkeep of 28,500 American troops stationed in the country.
In a tweet Wednesday, Trump said the two countries have begun negotiations to renew their defense cost-sharing deal and added that Seoul has agreed to pay "substantially more."
South Korea's foreign ministry issued a statement saying the talks have yet to begin.
"When it comes to U.S. bases in South Korea and those agreements, this is one of those issues that the president has been incredibly crystal clear on," department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters. "There's no ambiguity on where the president stands. He's said that he wants our allies to contribute more."
Trump sent the tweet as U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was traveling through Asia on his first trip since taking office last month.
Esper, who is currently in Seoul, will meet with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on Friday and likely discuss the cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement.
"We're, of course, very appreciative of the considerable resources that South Korea has provided to support the alliance," Ortagus said, noting that Seoul is one of Washington's most crucial allies in Northeast Asia and will remain so.
"They, of course, contributed towards the cost of maintaining U.S. forces in South Korea," she continued. "But of course, this is something, burden sharing is a theme of the president's and it will be a theme of the president's as it relates to South Korea, as it relates to NATO. Pick your issue. The president wants all countries to share in the mutual defense."
Under this year's SMA, Seoul agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won (US$915 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year.
With the deal set to expire at the end of the year, the two sides are expected to begin negotiations again soon.
The U.S. troop presence is a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Analysts say the forces not only deter North Korean aggression but also serve to counter China's growing military and economic assertiveness in the region. (Yonhap)