(Yonhap Interview) GOP senators oppose Trump's calls for more defense-cost sharing with Korea
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, June 1 (Yonhap) -- Three Republican senators have voiced opposition to their presidential candidate Donald Trump's argument that South Korea should pay more for the upkeep of American troops on its soil.
Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) also told Yonhap News Agency in an exclusive interview Tuesday that there will be no renegotiation of the allies' free trade agreement despite Trump's apparent wish to reexamine the deal.
"Whether it is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, we have an absolute commitment and resolve to growing our alliance with Korea and there is no going back," Gardner said.
Senators Cory Gardner (L), Dan Sullivan (C) and Joni Ernst speak in an interview with Yonhap News Agency at a Seoul hotel on May 31, 2016. (Yonhap)
The freshmen senators, who were visiting South Korea on the first leg of a four-nation Asia tour, made clear that the U.S. wants to strengthen its partnership with South Korea across all sectors, including in the military, economic and energy spheres.
"There will be no renegotiation of our free trade agreement," Gardner said. "We will look for ways to strengthen our free trade agreement and as we move forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, look for new ways to engage our best partners."
The KORUS FTA has been a cornerstone of the two countries' economic alliance since it went into effect in March 2012. Walid Phares, an international relations scholar who serves as Trump's foreign policy brain, however, told Yonhap last month the presumptive nominee and real estate tycoon may wish to "go back to ground zero" on all FTAs the U.S. has signed so far, including the one with South Korea.
Trump has also accused South Korea of getting a free ride on defense, saying Seoul should pay more to keep 28,500 American troops stationed on its soil to help defend against North Korean aggression.
"Already the Republic of Korea bears the large brunt of what goes on in the Korean Peninsula," Ernst said. "As we look at Europe and NATO, there are countries there that, yes, need to do more. They have not stepped up to that challenge yet. However, when you take a look at the Korean Peninsula, it's a very different situation."
Sullivan pointed out that South Korea pays close to US$800 million a year in terms of operational cost and expenses related to the relocation of American forces to Camp Humphrey's, south of Seoul. The South Korean government is expected to pay 93 percent of the relocation cost, the lawmaker said
Trump's unfounded argument, therefore, is unlikely to become part of the Republican party's campaign platform nearer the presidential election in November, Ernst said.
Sullivan underscored the role of the U.S. Congress in foreign policy.
"Remember the way those agreements work is they get negotiated but then Congress passes laws in implementing legislation to implement the deal," he said. "Congress has already passed laws ... that have implemented the U.S-Korea free trade agreement. The role of the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Congress in these issues is not simply in passing -- it's central."
Sullivan and Ernst serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Gardner is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific.
Gardner authored a bill that passed through Congress in February calling for stronger sanctions against the Pyongyang regime.
Ernst has been reported to be a potential Trump running mate.