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U.S. official says U.S. 'significantly flexible' in defense cost-sharing talks with Korea

All News 03:45 August 21, 2020

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- The United States has shown "significant flexibility" in talks to decide South Korea's share of the cost to maintain U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), a ranking U.S. diplomat said Thursday, adding the countries continue to work for what he called a "mutually acceptable agreement."

"The mutual acceptable agreement for the Republic of South Korea and for the United States, it's been a continuous conversation," Assistant Secretary of State R. Clarke Cooper said at a teleconference in Washington.

Cooper is in charge of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the State Department.

This screenshot shows Assistant Secretary of State R. Clarke Cooper speaking during a video-conference with reporters on Aug. 20, 2020. (Yonhap)

His remark came in response to a question if there had been recent progress in the dialogue that earlier hit an apparent deadlock.

Seoul officials earlier said the country's top negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, held a telephone conversation with his new U.S. counterpart, Donna Welton, appointed earlier in the month.

"While there was a pause, we are certainly re-approaching with them on not just -- it's not just cost sharing. It's the burden sharing of the security of the Korean Peninsula," Cooper said.

He refused to get into details, but said the U.S. has recently shown "significant flexibility."

"We certainly have, I would say, we have shown significant flexibility in recent weeks on our bill. We need to reach a mutually acceptable agreement," said the U.S. diplomat.

Washington was earlier said to have requested Seoul to pay US$1.3 billion as part of the cost to maintain the 28,500-strong U.S. troops in South Korea, which would mark a 50 percent spike from around $870 million Seoul paid under last year's burden sharing agreement.

Seoul has said the best it can do is a 13-percent increase.

This photo taken Aug. 3, 2020, from the website of the U.S. State Department shows Donna Welton, who recently served as assistant chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. The department has named Welton a new envoy for defense cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea and other nations. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Cooper declined to answer when asked if the United States' recent flexibility meant a concession, only stressing the importance of a deal.

"I have emphasized that several times because we have to do this for each other. This is not an either-or proposition. This is definitely a shared interest for both, both nations," Cooper said.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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