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(2nd LD) S. Korea, U.S. hold 1st round of defense cost-sharing talks

Defense 17:19 September 24, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS more info in 4th para)

SEOUL, Sept. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States launched a new round of negotiations in Seoul on Tuesday on sharing the cost for the stationing of American troops here.

The negotiations are aimed at working out a new Special Measure Agreement (SMA) that will determine how much Seoul should pay to station the 28,500 American troops in the country. The current deal is set to expire at the end of the year.

Chang Won-sam, who negotiated the current deal, represented South Korea as the government is still in the process of selecting his successor. James DeHart, a former charge d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Norway, led the U.S. delegation.

During Tuesday's talks that lasted for around six hours, including a lunch meeting, the two sides exchanged their "basic stances, principles and expectations," a Seoul official said while refusing to go into detail.

The South's delegation comprises officials from the foreign, finance and defense ministries while the U.S. team will include officials from the State Department and the Pentagon, the foreign ministry said.

This week's talks will run through Wednesday.

In New York, President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump also discussed the issue when they held summit talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, with Moon stressing the importance of a "fair sharing" of the cost at a "reasonable level," officials said.

Trump has long demanded Seoul should pay more for the U.S. troop presence.

(2nd LD) S. Korea, U.S. hold 1st round of defense cost-sharing talks - 1

Under this year's SMA, signed in February and valid until Dec. 31, South Korea agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won (US$870 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year.

Seoul has said it will seek to maintain its share of the costs at a "fair and reasonable" level.

Government officials in Seoul said South Korea will have the new chief negotiator ready by the time for the second round of the SMA talks.

Unconfirmed news reports have said that Jeong Eun-bo, a former senior financial ministry official, has been tapped as the new negotiator as the government wants to have an expert who is "good with numbers" and who won't easily back down in the face of U.S. demands.

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.


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