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S. Korea-U.S. defense cost talks not affected by virus: official

All News 06:35 March 07, 2020

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, March 6 (Yonhap) -- The coronavirus has not affected defense cost-sharing negotiations between South Korea and the United States, a State Department official said Friday.

At a press briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper was asked if the coronavirus outbreak is affecting scheduling of negotiations with South Korea and Japan, two countries with which the U.S. seeks to reach an agreement on sharing the cost of stationing American troops there.

Talks between Seoul and Washington have stalled as the Trump administration has demanded a significant increase in South Korea's financial contributions under a new Special Measures Agreement.

This AFP file photo shows the U.S. Department of State in Washington. (Yonhap)

"The conversations haven't stopped," Cooper said. "They have embassies here in Washington. We have embassies in Seoul and Tokyo. Our senior negotiator, my colleague Jim DeHart, is in direct contact with his counterparts in Seoul and in Tokyo. So no, nothing has slowed down."

The last time South Korean and U.S. negotiators sat down for talks was in January in Washington. The U.S. has warned that some 9,000 Korean civilians working on American bases on the peninsula will be furloughed starting April 1 if the two sides fail to reach a deal.

"With that, we certainly see the Koreans now have opportunity to come back to the table, and this is certainly an expectation of everyone involved here in the United States. It's an expectation of Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo. It's an expectation of President (Donald) Trump for the Koreans to come back and respond to what we have been discussing," Cooper said. "But it's certainly within the timeframe and we have modern ways of communicating. Face-to-face is preferred, but we are certainly not immune from using video teleconference."

As of Friday, there were 6,593 cases of COVID-19 in South Korea, with 44 deaths.

U.S. Forces Korea has reported seven infections among its 28,500 troops and their family members.


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