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(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. extend defense cost-sharing talks in LA

All Headlines 15:42 March 19, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES throughout)
By Song Sang-ho

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

The extension came as Seoul and Washington hankered for an early deal to share the cost of stationing 28,500 American troops here, amid concerns that Korean employees in the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) could be furloughed next month absent a scheme to fund their wages.

It remains unclear whether the extension bodes well or ill for the negotiations, as Seoul officials did not go into detail about any developments in the seventh round of the talks that were initially set to run for two days until Wednesday.

During the talks, Seoul's top negotiator Jeong Eun-bo and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, thrashed out their differences on how much Seoul should pay for the upkeep of the USFK under the cost-sharing deal, called the Special Measures Agreement (SMA).

Before the talks, Seoul's negotiation team hoped 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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