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U.S. envoy for defense cost talks to depart within weeks: source

Diplomacy 04:19 July 07, 2020

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, July 6 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. envoy for defense cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea is due to step down "within weeks," a diplomatic source said Monday, as talks remain deadlocked for over six months.

James DeHart, senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements at the U.S. State Department, will be appointed coordinator for Arctic affairs as part of a regular personnel reshuffle, the source told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.

The source, who is versed in South Korea-U.S. affairs, also said a new person will be taking over the negotiations with South Korea and those with other nations such as Japan.

Who that next person is is still unclear, he said.

This photo, provided by South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shows James DeHart (R), U.S. lead negotiator for defense cost-sharing talks, and his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Eun-bo, at their seventh round of talks in Los Angeles on March 17, 2020. (No resales. No archiving.) (Yonhap)

DeHart has held seven rounds of talks with his South Korean counterparts since assuming his duties in September. The latest meeting was held in Los Angeles in March.

The allies have struggled to close their gap over Washington's demands for a significant increase in Seoul's contributions to the cost of keeping 28,500 American troops stationed on the peninsula.

The U.S. has asked for US$1.3 billion a year, a 50 percent increase from Seoul's payment last year, while South Korea has refused to give more than a 13 percent increase.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in April that he rejected South Korea's offer because the country is wealthy and should pay for "a big percentage of what we're doing."

His recent decision to reduce U.S. troop levels in Germany sparked concern he might pull a similar move in South Korea if the cost-sharing negotiations continue to stall.

"There is no sense of urgency for either side to do anything," the source said, citing last month's agreement to first settle the issue of South Korean workers on U.S. bases who were furloughed in April.

Last month, former National Security Adviser John Bolton claimed in his memoir that Trump told U.S. officials in August to "get out" out of South Korea if it refused to pay $5 billion in U.S. troop support.

hague@yna.co.kr
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