S. Korea, U.S. abruptly cut short defense cost-sharing talks

SEOUL-- South Korea and the United States abruptly cut short their defense cost-sharing talks Tuesday, with the U.S. chief negotiator accusing Seoul of making proposals falling short of a "fair and equitable burden sharing."

The abrupt ending underlined wide differences between the two sides after Washington's reported demand for a fivefold increase in Seoul's sharing of the cost of the upkeep of about 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.

The latest round of negotiations, which began Monday, were supposed to last through Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, the proposals that were put forward by the Korean team were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden sharing," James DeHart of the U.S. State Department told local media shortly after the talks ended.

"As a result, we cut short our participation in the talks today in order to give the Korean side some time to reconsider, and I hope, to put forward new proposals that would enable both sides to work towards a mutually acceptable agreement in the spirit of our great alliance," he said. "We look forward to resuming our negotiations when the Korean side is ready to work on the basis of partnership on the basis of mutual trust," he said.

The South's foreign ministry said the U.S. called for a drastic increase in Seoul's share.

"The U.S. side holds the position that the share of the defense cost should increase drastically by establishing a new article (in the cost-sharing deal), while our side maintains the increase should be within the range that is mutually acceptable within the framework of the SMA that the South and the U.S. have agreed on over the last 28 years," the ministry said.

It was referring to the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), the defense cost-sharing accord.

"In any case, our side plans to do our best to ensure we will take a fair share at a reasonable level that contributes to strengthening the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the combined defense posture," it added.

Reports have said the U.S. has demanded South Korea pay nearly US$5 billion next year to cover expenditures related to the allies' combined military exercises and support for the USFK troops' families.

Under this year's SMA, which is set to expire at the end of the year, Seoul agreed to pay US$870 million.

Over the last week, civic groups here have been upbraiding Washington for its pressure on Seoul to significantly jack up its financial contributions to the USFK, calling the U.S. demand an "extortion of taxpayers' money."

Since 1991, Seoul has shouldered partial costs under the SMA -- for Korean civilians hired by the USFK, the construction of military facilities to maintain the allies' readiness and other forms of support.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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