South Korea sees no change in US ties regardless of November election, official says

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea expects no fundamental shift in relations with the United States even if U.S. voters elect a new president, but hopes to make progress on defence cost-sharing talks and other issues this year, a senior presidential official said.

The official, speaking with a small group of journalists on Monday, said that South Korea does not devise its policy based on predictions on the U.S. presidential election in November, but that both sides will try to advance efforts to bolster security partnerships before that.

The allies have agreed to launch early talks on sharing the cost of keeping U.S. troops in South Korea, and will accelerate discussions to boost Seoul’s say in operating U.S. extended deterrence, including American nuclear umbrella, the official said.

“There is an incentive for the Biden administration to work more actively on the issues as it wraps up its first term this year,” the official said. “We share the need to make some achievements, and that’s why both sides have agreed to begin the defence cost-sharing negotiations and complete the work on extended deterrence.”

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has said that its delegation visited South Korea in December to discuss the defence cost-sharing deal and would work with Seoul to prepare for talks on the next agreement.

Former President Donald Trump, favoured to be the Republican candidate in the election, had accused South Korea, a key Asian ally, of “free-riding” on U.S. military might, called for stopping what he called “expensive” war games, and demanded that Seoul pay as much as $5 billion a year for the U.S. deployment.

If Trump is elected, South Korea will work with his government, but the alliance will remain unchanged in part because of solid support from the U.S. Congress for greater bilateral cooperation and a trilateral partnership involving Japan, the official said.

“There’s a difference between what you say as a candidate and what you actually do as responsible head of state who carries out global policies,” the official said. “The president might change every four years, but the U.S. Congress is never fickle.”


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