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S. Korean, U.S. diplomats meet in Seoul ahead of negotiations on defense cost sharing

All Headlines 15:39 August 20, 2019

SEOUL, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean and U.S. diplomats held talks in Seoul on Tuesday over the allies' envisioned negotiations on the sharing of the cost for the upkeep of American troops here.

Chang Won-sam from Seoul's foreign ministry and his U.S. counterpart, Timothy Betts, had the closed-door meeting, as Seoul and Washington are bracing for a new round of talks on how much Seoul will pay for the stationing of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).

Chang and Betts were the chief negotiators of the previous negotiations on the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a defense cost-sharing deal. They are unlikely to lead the upcoming SMA talks, as both Seoul and Washington are expected to form new negotiation teams.

"It can be seen as the pre-negotiation consultations," an official at Seoul's foreign ministry told reporters. "Our position vis-a-vis the upcoming negotiation is to shoulder the cost at a reasonable and fair level."

Under this year's 10th SMA, Seoul agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won (US$861.8 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year. As the one-year deal is set to expire at the end of this year, the allies are expected to launch new SMA talks soon.

In an abrupt tweet earlier this month, Trump said that the SMA talks had already begun, and that Seoul has agreed to jack up its spending to defend against North Korean threats. Observers here said that the tweet appeared to be part of his negotiation tactic.

Last month, local media here reported that Washington had tentatively decided to request that Seoul pay US$5 billion to support the USFK for next year, more than a fivefold increase from this year.

Since 1991, Seoul has shouldered partial costs under the SMA -- for Korean civilians hired by the USFK, the construction of military facilities to maintain the allies' readiness and other forms of support.

Chang Won-sam (R), South Korea's delegate to defense cost talks with the United States, exchanges a letter of accord with his counterpart Timothy Betts in a signing ceremony in Seoul on Feb. 10, 2019, in this photo provided by the foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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