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(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. to hold talks on sharing defense costs

All News 15:25 July 12, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with Seoul's position in paras 6-8; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, July 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Thursday its negotiators will meet with U.S. officials next week in a bid to narrow differences over the sharing of the cost of maintaining American troops on the peninsula.

The fifth session of the 10th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) is to take place in Seattle on Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Key issues include Washington's call for Seoul to foot the bill, at least partially, for the deployment of such U.S. strategic assets as aircraft carriers and long-range bombers to Korea in case such deployments are resumed.

The allies have suspended major combined military drills amid dialogue with North Korea and the U.S. has refrained from sending high-profile defense assets to Korea.

If denuclearization talks falter and the North shifts back to provocation, the U.S. is expected to dispatch them again in a costly maneuver.

South Korean and U.S. officials hold talks in Seoul on sharing the cost of maintaining American troops in Korea on June 26, 2018. (Yonhap)

The ministry said the allies are engaged in the SMA talks on the basis of mutual trust and respect of the alliance spirit.

"There's no change in our government's position to continue to share the cost fairly at a reasonable level so that the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), which has played a pivotal role so far in peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, can be stationed going forward as well," the ministry's spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said at a press briefing.

He was responding to concern about possible impact from President Donald Trump's hard-line approach on the issue as demonstrated in his public pressure on European countries to pay more for the NATO alliance.

Earlier meetings took place in Honolulu in March, on Jeju Island in April and in Washington, D.C. in May and in Seoul last month.

The existing SMA deal is scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

South Korea has shared the financial burden for the USFK, currently composed of around 28,500 service members, since the early 1990s.

Seoul's share has increased to around 960 billion won ($850 million) in 2018 under the latest five-year accord from 150 billion won in 1991, government data showed.


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