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Korea, U.S. hold new round of defense cost-sharing talks in Honolulu

Diplomacy 06:45 October 24, 2019

SEOUL, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States held a fresh round of negotiations in Hawaii this week on the sharing of the cost for the upkeep of American troops on the peninsula, Seoul's foreign ministry said Thursday.

The two-day talks began in Honolulu on Wednesday (local time) with both sides bracing for yet another grueling tug of war over how much South Korea should pay next year and beyond for the stationing of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).

Seoul has suggested a "reasonable and equitable" share in response to Washington's call for a hefty rise in its contributions.

South Korea's top negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, met face to face for the first time. The first session of the negotiations in Seoul was attended by Jeong's predecessor, Chang Won-sam, as Jeong had not been officially appointed.

The allies have been under pressure to reach the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a bilateral cost-sharing deal, as the 10th SMA, struck in February, is set to expire on Dec. 31.

Before his departure for Hawaii, Jeong vowed to ensure that Seoul would shoulder a share that is "possible within the framework of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and from the economic standpoint" in a "reasonable and equitable" way.

In this week's talks, Seoul and Washington may face off over a series of contentious issues, including the amount of Seoul's payments, the duration of the new SMA and other specific items that will be covered by the cost-sharing arrangement.

This year's SMA requires South Korea to pay 1.04 trillion won (US$886 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous 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.

This photo, taken on Oct. 22, 2019, shows Jeong Eun-bo, South Korea's top negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with the United States, speaking to the media at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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