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U.S. continues to urge S. Korea to show flexibility in defense cost talks: official

All News 00:22 June 05, 2020

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, June 4 (Yonhap) -- The United States continues to urge South Korea to show "flexibility" in negotiations over sharing the cost of the American troop presence there, notwithstanding a recent agreement to have Seoul pay for Korean workers on U.S. bases, a State Department official said Thursday.

The allies have for months tried to reach a new Special Measures Agreement stipulating how much South Korea will contribute to the cost of keeping 28,500 American troops stationed on the peninsula.

The negotiations have hit an impasse amid U.S. demands for a significant increase in Seoul's share, but the two sides agreed earlier this week to let South Korea fund the labor costs for thousands of Korean workers who were furloughed by U.S. Forces Korea in April due to the absence of a new deal.

Marc Knapper, deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, said the development addressed the "human cost" of failing to renew the SMA, but also concerns about troop readiness.

"Ultimately the SMA is about ensuring that our alliance is capable and ready to deter and, if necessary, defend against North Korean aggression," he said during a virtual seminar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Having all these workers furloughed, we were concerned it would impact our readiness, impact our ability to honor our treaty commitments."

The recent agreement allows South Korea to pay for the labor costs through the end of the year, but it leaves the issue of reaching a new SMA unresolved.

Washington has asked Seoul to pay a total of US$1.3 billion a year, a 50 percent increase from last year, while South Korea has insisted on a 13 percent increase.

"I think we believe we've been very flexible," Knapper said. "Now we are urging South Korean government to show the same flexibility."

This file photo shows U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan Marc Knapper. (Yonhap)

This file photo shows U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan Marc Knapper. (Yonhap)


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