South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper will discuss cost sharing for the upkeep of 28,500 American troops stationed here at a teleconference next month, Seoul’s Ministry of Defense said Tuesday.
“The date and agenda haven’t been finalized yet. We’re in the middle of consultations with the US,” ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a press briefing.
Seoul and Washington arranged the teleconference after the cancellation of the Asia Security Summit, a global security gathering of defense chiefs, over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. A bilateral defense meeting usually took place on the sidelines of the annual summit.
Reaching a compromise on how the allies should share the costs of the US military presence is proving to be tough, with US President Donald Trump openly pressuring Korea to pay about $1.3 billion for a year, a whopping 49 percent increase from what Korea paid last year. It is roughly four times the amount that Seoul and Washington shook hands on for a stopgap deal in March, which Trump rejected.
Senior US officials have since said $1.3 billion was final and rational, compared with the $50 billion Trump initially floated.
In the teleconference, the US side is expected to reaffirm that stance and pressure the South to give in.
The two countries’ joint military drills and preparations for the transfer of wartime operational control back to Seoul could also be discussed.
The latest exchange between the two sides took place in early April in the form of a phone conversation, in which Esper echoed Trump’s opinion that Korea should bear a greater proportion of the defense costs.