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(LEAD) U.S. did not demand S. Korea pay for strategic asset deployment in SMA talks: official

Diplomacy 20:31 October 30, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS foreign minister's remarks in paras 4-6)

SEOUL, Oct. 30 (Yonhap) -- The United States did not demand South Korea share the expenditure for its deployment of strategic assets, such as nuclear-capable bombers, to or near the peninsula in the allies' recent defense cost-sharing talks, a Seoul official said Wednesday.

Speculation has persisted that Washington has been asking Seoul to chip in for the cost for the dispatch of strategic assets as part of its payments for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea under the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a bilateral cost-sharing deal.

"During the previous two rounds of SMA talks, the U.S. did not request that we share the cost for the deployment of strategic assets," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Later in the day, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also denied such speculation during a parliamentary session.

"There was no request regarding the cost of the deployment of strategic assets," she told the National Assembly committee of foreign affairs and unification.

"This is not a situation where we can tell about details of the consultations. There is a very large gap between the two sides," she said.

Strategic assets refer to formidable U.S. military hardware such as nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, which are often used as a show of force to deter provocations or aggression by potential adversaries.

Critics argue that should Seoul shoulder the cost for operations involving such U.S. military assets, it could amount to South Korea sharing the burden for America's broader security missions well beyond the peninsula.

The allies held two rounds of SMA negotiations in Seoul last month and in Honolulu earlier this month. They have been under pressure to clinch the 11th SMA by the end of this year, when the current one-year deal, struck in February, is set to expire.

In the SMA negotiations, Seoul has argued that the cost-sharing talks must proceed within the existing SMA framework that covers the expenses only for the upkeep of the USFK, not the temporary dispatch of strategic assets from Guam or other U.S. bases outside the peninsula.

The allies plan to hold another round of SMA negotiations in Seoul next month.

Under the 10th SMA, South Korea agreed to pay $870 million this year. Reports say the U.S. wants South Korea to pay $5 billion in the ongoing negotiations.

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 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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