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(LEAD) U.S. shows 'significant flexibility' in defense cost talks with S. Korea: State Department

All News 09:36 August 21, 2020

(ATTN: RESTRUCTURES throughout to highlight Cooper's remarks that U.S. has shown 'significant flexibility' in recent defense cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea)
By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (Yonhap) -- The United States has shown "significant flexibility" recently in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea, a senior U.S. diplomat said Thursday, stressing the negotiations are about sharing the security burden of the Korean Peninsula.

Assistant Secretary of State Clarke Cooper made the remark during a teleconference in Washington after South Korean officials said Seoul's chief negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, held a telephone conversation with his new U.S. counterpart, Donna Welton, appointed earlier this month.

"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," Cooper said. He 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 videoconference with reporters on Aug. 20, 2020. (Yonhap)

Cooper refused to get into details when asked if the U.S.' recent "flexibility" meant a concession, only stressing the importance of a deal and saying he did not want to disrupt the "warm lines of communication" between the sides.

"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," he said.

He added the negotiations have never stopped.

"While there was a pause, we are certainly reapproaching them on not just -- it's not just cost sharing. It's the burden sharing of the security of the Korean Peninsula, again from a regional context, but the communication hasn't stopped," Cooper said.

"The mutual acceptable agreement for the Republic of South Korea and for the United States, it's been a continuous conversation," he added.

The talks between Jeong and Welton marked a resumption of the negotiations that have been stalled due to a wide gap in the positions of the two countries.

Washington was earlier said to have requested Seoul to pay US$1.3 billion per year 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 the $870 million Seoul paid under last year's burden-sharing agreement.

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

Cooper said the new U.S. negotiator is not only fluent in Japanese but also "quite familiar with the Korean language as well."

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)

bdk@yna.co.kr
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