FM Kang, Secretary Esper meet, no discussions on defense cost sharing

SEOUL, South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyungwha held talks with new U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in Seoul Friday, but the issue of defense costsharing between the two countries didn't come up, a Seoul official said.

The allies face yet another round of negotiations later this year on Seoul's share of the cost of stationing the 28,500strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), as U.S. President Donald Trump is seen as heaping pressure on the Asian ally to pay more.

There was no mention by Secretary Esper regarding the sharing of the defense cost, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Esper arrived here on Thursday for a twoday visit as part of his Asia trip that includes stops in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Mongolia.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that talks have begun to increase Seoul's financial contribution to the USFK, and that Seoul has agreed to pay substantially more money.

The foreign ministry here said that official negotiations on the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a defense costsharing deal, have yet to begin, let alone any agreement on its contribution to the USFK for next year. It stressed that the two sides have agreed to conduct their negotiations in a reasonable and fair way.

After the 30minute closeddoor talks with the foreign minister, Esper tweeted that he and Kang discussed our shared interests in a free and open IndoPacific.

Seoul and Washington have recently been seeking common ground between their flagship external policy initiatives the New Southern Policy and the IndoPacific Strategy to promote regional cooperation and stability.

Seoul's New Southern Policy seeks to deepen economic and diplomatic cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and India, while the IndoPacific Strategy seeks to secure freedom of action in global commons in maritime and other domains.

After his talks with Kang, the Pentagon chief met South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeongdoo, where he reaffirmed the ironclad alliance as the linchpin of peace and security on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia.

Source: Yonhap news Agency

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