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Esper says he called S. Korean counterpart to discuss defense cost deal

All News 04:57 April 07, 2020

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, April 6 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Monday he called South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo to discuss the importance of an "equitable" defense cost-sharing agreement between the allies.

The phone call took place days after U.S. Forces Korea placed thousands of Korean workers on U.S. military bases on unpaid leave, citing the absence of an agreement to cover their salaries.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (R) and his U.S. counterpart, Mark Esper, pose for a photo prior to their talks at the Pentagon in Washington on Feb. 24, 2020, in this photo provided by the defense ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"I appreciate Korean Defense Minister Jeong taking my phone call today to discuss the importance of equitable burden sharing across the alliance," Esper tweeted.

"It is critical that we get a fair, balanced, and comprehensive agreement signed quickly," he said, adding the alliance's motto, "#KatchiKapshida," which in Korean means "Let's go together."

Seoul and Washington have held seven rounds of negotiations since September to try to renew the Special Measures Agreement, which stipulates South Korea's contributions to the cost of keeping 28,500 American troops stationed on the peninsula.

Under the previous SMA that expired at the end of December, Seoul was required to pay US$870 million. This year Washington has demanded a significant increase in Seoul's contributions, although it has reportedly backed down from its initial demands for $5 billion.

Last week South Korean media reported that the two sides had reached a tentative agreement that could be announced as soon as April 1.

No deal has been announced, with U.S. officials insisting that negotiations are ongoing to ensure an equitable and mutually beneficial deal for both sides.

"(U.S. President Donald Trump) has been clear in the expectation that our allies around the world, including South Korea, can and should contribute more," a State Department official said last week on condition of anonymity.

Esper's reference to a "comprehensive" agreement is likely an underscoring of Washington's opposition to Seoul's proposal to first settle the issue of Korean workers' salaries through a separate deal.


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