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S. Korea, U.S. end second day of defense cost-sharing talks in L.A.

Defense 10:10 March 19, 2020

SEOUL, March 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have wrapped up the second day of their latest defense cost-sharing talks in Los Angeles, the foreign ministry said Thursday, amid speculation they could extend the talks for another day.

Seoul's top negotiator Jeong Eun-bo and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, continued their negotiations Wednesday to determine how much Seoul should pay for the stationing of the 28,500-strong USFK under the cost-sharing deal, called the Special Measures Agreement (SMA).

The two sides initially planned to conduct the talks for two days, but speculation remains they could extend them to make progress amid rising concerns that Korean workers in the USFK could be forced to go on unpaid leave next month absent a deal to bankroll their wages.

Before the seventh round of the negotiations, Seoul's negotiation team prepared to engage in separate negotiations for an arrangement to first address the Korean employees' wage issue in case of a failure to reach a comprehensive SMA.

But the U.S. State Department balked, telling media that it could distract from "expeditiously concluding a mutually acceptable and comprehensive SMA that addresses all facets of the agreement."

Since last September, the two countries have held six rounds of SMA talks, including the last in Washington in January. But they failed to bridge differences over how much Seoul should shoulder this year and beyond and what should be covered by the SMA.

The U.S. has revised downward its initial demand for a fivefold increase of Seoul's financial contribution to the USFK to some $5 billion. But it is known to currently call for about $4 billion, with Seoul insisting on an increase of about 10 percent.

Jeong Eun-bo (L), South Korea's chief negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with the United States, poses for a photo with his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, at their latest negotiation in Los Angeles on March 17, 2020, in this photo provided by the foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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