South Korea Rejects US Demand in Defense Cost Talks
(Source: The Korea Times; issued Aug 27, 2018)
South Korea and the United States are still at odds over their ongoing defense cost-sharing negotiations, clashing over who should pay for the deployment of U.S. strategic weapons here during their annual military exercises.

According to diplomatic sources, Monday, Washington and Seoul failed to reach an agreement during the sixth round of defense cost-sharing talks which ended Thursday.

The negotiations, which started in March, are aimed at deciding Seoul's share of the financial burden next year for maintaining the 28,500 U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) troops here.

The U.S. position is that South Korea should increase its payment due to the costs of deploying U.S. strategic weapons during their regular drills. The South, however, claims that the defense cost-sharing is only about the maintenance costs for the USFK, and so the U.S.'s demand concerning the strategic weapons should not be discussed during the ongoing negotiations.

"We seek understanding from the U.S. by continuously engaging in dialogue," an official from the South's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. "The U.S. has yet to back down from its position, but we are still in talks."

The foreign ministry hopes to come to an agreement by the end of this year. Both sides plan to hold the seventh round of negotiations next month in the U.S. A specific location has not been confirmed.

But it remains to be seen whether both sides can reach an agreement at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is sticking to a hard-line stance on the ongoing negotiations.

Trump, since taking office last year, has outwardly expressed complaints over the defense cost-sharing between Seoul and Washington.

This June, Trump urged the South to pay more for the USFK maintenance in South Korea after his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

Trump said the U.S. has paid for "a big majority of" the annual "war games" between Seoul and Washington. The two countries have conducted joint drills each year to maintain military readiness against potential nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.

Given the continuous clash from both sides, South Korea is expected to pay more than 1 trillion won ($897 million) for defense cost-sharing next year.

Seoul paid 960.2 billion won for this year, up 27.6 percent from 751.5 billion won in 2008.

South Korea has been sharing the cost burden for the USFK since 1991, and both sides have renewed the agreement every two to five years. The ongoing negotiations are to renew the five-year agreement which expires at the end of this year.

"Both countries agreed to continue negotiations under the goal of reaching an agreement no later than the end of the year," the official said.


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