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(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. open new round of defense cost talks

Diplomacy 10:58 December 17, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS photos)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Dec. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States opened another round of talks Tuesday on the sharing of the cost of stationing American troops here, with the current deal due to expire in two weeks amid few signs of progress.

This week's negotiations, set to run until Wednesday, will likely be the last round of talks before the current cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), expires on Dec. 31. The two sides are led by Jeong Eun-bo, South Korea's chief negotiator, and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart.

The two sides remain far apart over how much Seoul should pay for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) as Washington has reportedly demanded a more-than fivefold increase in Seoul's payments to nearly US$5 billion. Under this year's SMA, Seoul agreed to pay about $870 million.

The U.S. apparently wants to create a new clause in the SMA in order to get Seoul to cover expenses related to the allies' combined military exercises and support for USFK troops' families.

Jeong Eun-bo (R), South Korea's chief negotiator for defense cost-sharing talks, stands with his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, ahead of their new round of talks in Seoul on Dec. 17, 2019, in this photo provided by Seoul's foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Seoul insists that the negotiations should proceed within the SMA framework, which requires it to pay partial costs for Korean employees in USFK installations, construction of some military facilities and logistical support.

Some observers have raised the idea that Seoul could offer ways that it can contribute to U.S.-led efforts in safeguarding the shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, off Iran, as a possible bargaining chip in its SMA negotiations.

The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said last week that its security officials reviewed what options Seoul has for contributing to the efforts for the maritime security in the region.

Some others say Seoul could also use its plan to carry out the decontamination work in four returned U.S. military bases here as a counteroffer to the U.S.' call for the drastic hike in the defense cost-sharing. The clean-up process is estimated to cost about 110 billion won (US$92 million)

The negotiating teams of South Korea and the U.S. hold defense cost-sharing talks in Seoul on Dec. 17, 2019, in this photo provided by the South Korean foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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