S. Korea, U.S. to hold new round of defense cost-sharing talks next week

SEOUL-- South Korea and the United States will hold a new round of negotiations in Seoul next week over sharing the cost for the upkeep of American troops on the peninsula, Seoul's foreign ministry said Friday.

South Korea's top negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, and his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, will lead the negotiations on Monday and Tuesday, as Washington has been ramping up pressure on Seoul to pay more.

During a joint press conference with Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo in Seoul, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper highlighted South Korea as a "wealthy country," saying that it "could and should pay more to help offset the cost of defense."

The allies have been under pressure to reach their 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a deal to share the cost for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USKF), as the 10th SMA, struck in February and valid only for this year, is set to expire on Dec. 31.

In a press release, the foreign ministry here renewed its call for a "reasonable and equitable" cost-sharing deal.

"Our government will closely consult with the U.S. side based on our basic position that we will take a reasonable, equitable share within the existing framework," the ministry said in a press release.

"The government expects the upcoming negotiations to proceed in a direction that strengthens the South Korea-U.S. alliance and the combined defense posture," it added.

Reports said that the U.S. has demanded South Korea pay nearly US$5 billion under a new SMA to cover expenditure even for the operations of off-peninsula military assets committed to the defense of South Korea. Under this year's SMA, Seoul agreed to pay $870 million.

Amid the U.S.' apparent move to expand the scope of the SMA applications, Seoul has made it clear that the SMA negotiations must proceed strictly within the pre-existing cost-sharing framework.

South Korea has made financial contributions to three key areas as stipulated in the SMA: the partial costs for South Korean employees in USFK installations; the construction of military facilities such as those for troop education, training, communications and other purposes; and logistical support for ammunition storage, transportation and facility maintenance.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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