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(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. reaffirm efforts for 'fair, mutually acceptable' defense cost-sharing deal

North Korea 22:59 April 22, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 14-16)
By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, April 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States called Wednesday for a fair and mutually acceptable deal from their defense cost talks as the negotiations remain deadlocked since U.S. President Donald Trump rejected Seoul's offer to increase its contribution as insufficient.

The defense cost issue was one of the agenda items for the 17th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) that the two countries held via a videoconference, along with North Korea issues and joint efforts to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting came a day after Trump said he turned down Seoul's offer in the negotiations to work out a new cost-sharing pact, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA). The South had reportedly offered to increase its share by 13 percent from last year.

"The two sides jointly assessed joint efforts made so far for the conclusion of the 11th SMA, and stressed that the deal should be clinched at a fair and mutually agreeable level so as to continue to strengthen the alliance and a joint readiness posture," Seoul's defense ministry said in a release.

The U.S. initially demanded a more than fivefold increase in Seoul's contributions to US$5 billion.

Absent an agreement, the U.S. put around 4,000 South Koreans working for the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on indefinite furloughs starting on April 1.

Also on the table during Wednesday's dialogue was the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the ministry.

Heino Klinck, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, who led the U.S. delegation, praised South Korea's response to the coronavirus situation, saying its active leadership has been a model for the world.

The U.S. also expressed gratitude for Seoul's support for the USFK population, according to the ministry.

Speaking of the security situation on the peninsula, Seoul and Washington vowed continued close coordination to assess North Korea's movements and to achieve the complete denuclearization of the North.

The communist country has sought to beef up its defense capabilities and conducted a series of major weapons tests amid stalled denuclearization talks with Washington. In the latest muscle-flexing maneuver, Pyongyang launched what appeared to be cruise missiles off its east coast and air-to-ground missiles from fighter jets into the East Sea last week.

Over the past week, the health of leader Kim Jong-un has been an issue amid mounting speculation that he may be seriously ill.

"In particular, the two sides agreed to explore ways to enhance the allies' deterrence posture through the Deterrence Strategy Committee consultations," the ministry said.

The Pentagon also released a joint press statement, saying that Seoul and Washington reaffirmed that KIDD continues to play a "critical role" in coordinating defense policies between the allies.

"They also pledged to continue close communication and cooperation to maintain and strengthen the combined readiness posture of the ROK-U.S. alliance, which serves as the linchpin of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asian region," it added.

ROK stands for South Korea's official name, Republic of Korea.

Launched in 2011, KIDD is a comprehensive defense meeting between the two sides that integrates a set of consultative mechanisms, such as the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee and the Security Policy Initiative.

In this file photo, taken on Sept. 26, 2019, South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Chung Suk-hwan (L) and Heino Klinck, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, pose for a photo as they hold the 16th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue at the defense ministry in Seoul to discuss regional security and other pending alliance issues. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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