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(2nd LD) Korea, U.S. hold new round of defense cost-sharing talks in Honolulu

Diplomacy 14:11 October 24, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 6-11)
By Song Sang-ho

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.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that the ongoing negotiations should proceed within the existing framework, voicing opposition to creating a new clause in the SMA to cover the cost of "operational support" for the U.S. military's deployment of strategic assets to the peninsula.

"Our government's basic position is that the defense cost-sharing negotiations should proceed within the framework of the SMA that we have maintained throughout the past 10 SMA deals," she told a press meeting.

"It is true that the U.S. position, unlike in the past, is demanding a far greater level (of contribution from Seoul)," she said, stressing the need for a whole-of-government strategy for the tough negotiations.

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 were expected to 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.

Jeong Eun-bo (L), South Korea's chief negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with the United States, and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, pose for a photo before their new round of negotiations in Honolulu on Oct. 23, 2019, in this photo provided by Seoul's foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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