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South Korea, US ink provisional defense cost-sharing pact

US President Donald Trump at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda Maryland on Friday

On Sunday, chief negotiators from the two countries signed a new cost-sharing plan, which requires South Korea to pay about 1.04 trillion won ($924 million) in 2019, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

A senior South Korean ruling party legislator said last month that negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a "sudden, unacceptable" demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year.

South Korea and the United States struck a new deal Sunday on how much Seoul should pay for the U.S. military presence on its soil, after previous rounds of failed negotiations caused worries about their decades-long alliance. But the two sides also agreed to a one-year agreement instead of the usual five-year timeframe, so negotiators will have to return to the table soon.

President Moon Jae-in said on Monday that the second summit between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the United States will be a critical turning point for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The officials stressed the importance of "a strong South Korea-U.S. alliance and the need for a stable stationing of U.S. troops" and said the response from most of South Korea's government to the revised arrangement has been "positive so far".

This would allow Washington to call for additional increases in the amount South Korea would pay for the following year.

A group of activists staged a rally Sunday in front of the foreign ministry building against the agreement, claiming that renegotiating the agreement would largely increase Seoul's burden.

South Korea began paying for the US military deployment in the early 1990s, after rebuilding its war-devastated economy. Most U.S. troops were withdrawn in 1949 but they returned the next year to fight alongside South Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War. "We are very pleased our consultations resulted in agreement that will strengthen transparency and deepen our cooperation and the alliance".

South Korea has agreed to substantially increase its contribution to cover the cost of keeping USA troops in that country.

The new payment agreement comes weeks before Trump is set to meet for a second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"It's very expensive", he said on "Face the Nation" on CBS.

Trump, who has been a vocal critic of other nations failing to contribute for USA military presence around the world, highlighted the cost of keeping troops in South Korea during an interview earlier this month.

The big United States military presence in South Korea is a symbol of the countries' alliance, forged in blood during the war, but also a source of long-running anti-American sentiments.

"United States government realizes that Korea does a lot for our alliance and peace and stability in the region", said chief USA negotiator Timothy Betts.

Services had not been interrupted thanks to reserve funds, but USFK had warned the Korean Employees' Union that it would have to put local staff on unpaid leave beginning in mid-April if a deal wasn't reached.

Betts, deputy assistant secretary of state for plans, programs and operations, had 10 rounds of negotiations with Chang Won-sam, a veteran South Korean diplomat, throughout a year ago.