By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States are working to set up a videoconference call between their defense ministers next month to discuss defense-cost sharing, North Korea and other pending issues, officials said Tuesday.
The move came as an annual meeting in Singapore of defense ministers in the region, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, has been called off due to the coronavirus pandemic. The South and the U.S. have usually held one-on-one talks on the sidelines of the conference.
"Discussions are under way to fix the date," a defense ministry official said. "Given the current COVID-19 situation, the meeting is expected to take place online."
The defense ministry said earlier that South Korean and the U.S. defense ministers are planning to have a trilateral dialogue via videoconferencing involving their Japanese counterpart next month.
Key agenda items during the bilateral meeting would be their talks for a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that stipulates how much Seoul will pay for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea.
The defense cost-sharing negotiations have been deadlocked after U.S. President Donald Trump rejected Seoul's offer as insufficient. Officials said Washington has asked Seoul to pay $1.3 billion per year, a nearly 50 percent increase from last year, while Seoul says its best offer stands at a 13 percent increase.
Amid the protracted stalemate, USFK has put around 4,000 South Korean employees on unpaid leave since April 1.
The two ministers are also expected to discuss regional security issues, including North Korea, how to further enhance their joint readiness posture and preparations for the envisioned transfer of the wartime operational control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul, according to officials.
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