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(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. pushing for defense ministers' videoconference next month

All News 11:14 May 26, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS lead with fresh attribution; ADDS spokesperson's remarks on Seoul-Tokyo talks in paras 3, 9-11)
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, the defense ministry 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 between South Korea and the U.S. on holding a defense ministers' meeting via teleconferencing," ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a regular briefing. "The exact date and agenda items are yet to be fixed."

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.

South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (R) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper attend a press conference at the Pentagon in Washington on Feb. 24, 2020, in this photo provided by Jeong's office. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The defense ministry said earlier that the South Korean and U.S. defense ministers are planning to have a trilateral dialogue via videoconferencing involving their Japanese counterpart next month.

South Korea and Japan are also discussing the possibility of talks between their defense ministers, but "nothing has been fixed, as there are many factors to be taken into consideration," an official familiar with the matter said.

The two neighbors have been at odds over historic and economic issues stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

"We've had discussions regarding ministerial talks with other nations. As for the matter (of the Korea-Japan defense talks), nothing is fixed," spokesperson Choi said.


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