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Top diplomats of S. Korea, U.S. discuss coronavirus, defense cost-sharing deal by phone

All News 14:18 May 06, 2020

By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, May 6 (Yonhap) -- Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed over the phone joint efforts to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and other issues of mutual concern on Wednesday, including the stalled defense cost-sharing negotiations.

During the talks, Pompeo congratulated South Korea for successfully pulling off the April 15 general elections amid the COVID-19 outbreak and thanked the Asian ally for close cooperation in the exchange of information related to tackling the virus, Seoul's foreign ministry said in a release.

In response, Kang explained the government has been advising citizens not to lower their guard against the pandemic and to stick to eased quarantine rules after the country has seen a slowdown in infections.

They also shared the understanding that the South Korea-U.S. relations have been strengthened in a mutually beneficial way and agreed to cooperate further in various areas, including coronavirus responses, based on their firm alliance, the ministry said.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (L) and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pose for photos ahead of their bilateral talks in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 2020, in this photo released by the foreign ministry in Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

A foreign ministry official said that the stalled negotiations on defense cost-sharing were also part of the agenda items in Wednesday's phone call.

"They exchanged views to the effect that the two sides should work together to swiftly reach a deal for the defense cost-sharing negotiations in a general sense," the official said on condition of anonymity. "Today's phone call does not seem to have led to any breakthrough in the negotiations."

The allies have yet to reach a deal on renewing the terms for Seoul's share of the cost to maintain some 28,500 American troops stationed on its soil, amid Washington's call for a drastic increase in the payment.

U.S. President Donald Trump has rejected a South Korean offer of at least a 13 percent raise for the deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), saying Seoul should pay more for its own defense.

On Tuesday, Marc Knapper, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, renewed Trump's call by urging Seoul to show flexibility.

A diplomatic source in Seoul told Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday regarding Knapper's remarks that South Korea has already made the "best possible offer."

The source also said there has been little progress in the SMA talks since early April, adding that Seoul has little clue as to what kind of flexibility the U.S. is referring to.

The previous SMA expired at the end of last year, in which Seoul agreed to pay about $870 million. The absence of a new cost-sharing deal has placed some 4,000 Korean employees with the U.S. Forces Korea on unpaid leave since April 1.


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