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(LEAD) U.S. wants to begin defense cost-sharing talks as early as possible: official

Diplomacy 18:48 August 20, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with U.S. proposing negotiation date; CHANGES headline)

SEOUL, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- The United States wants to launch a new round of negotiations with South Korea as early as possible about sharing the cost for the upkeep of American troops here and proposed a specific date on Tuesday, a foreign ministry official said.

Timothy Betts, the top U.S. negotiator for defense cost-sharing talks, made the proposal when he held a closed-door meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Chang Won-sam, the official said without providing further details, including what the proposed date was.

"The U.S. wants to begin negotiations as early as possible," the official said on condition of anonymity. "We're going to think about it."

During the meeting, the U.S. official outlined the total cost necessary for keeping about 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, sources said. But it was unclear if he suggested how much of the cost the U.S. wants the South to shoulder.

Chang said that Seoul can only accept a raise within reasonable and fair levels, according to sources.

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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