US Defense Secretary Mark Esper (left) and Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo.
Amid drawn-out negotiations on military cost-sharing between South Korea and the US, the defense chiefs of both countries spoke by phone and discussed the importance of reaching an “equitable” agreement quickly.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper called Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo at around 8:30 p.m. on Monday evening, and discussed the ongoing negotiations for about 20 minutes, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry on Tuesday.
“I appreciate Korean Defense Minister Jeong taking my phone call today to discuss the importance of equitable burden sharing across the alliance. It is critical that we get a fair, balanced and comprehensive agreement signed quickly,” Esper tweeted after the conversation, adding the hashtag “KatchiKapshida,” meaning “We go together,” US Forces Korea’s motto.
“The two ministers agreed that they should reach a deal at a mutually acceptable and fair level, and have to work together for a swift agreement,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a regular briefing Tuesday. “During the conversation, Minister Jeong reiterated the need to settle the issue of USFK Korean employees on unpaid leave as a priority.”
The two allies have been at a standoff for months over the Special Measures Agreement that expired late last year, which stipulates how much each side should pay for the upkeep of roughly 28,500 US troops here. In the absence of a new pact, about 4,000 Korean workers employed by USFK were forced to go on indefinite unpaid leave starting last week.
Earlier last week, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her counterpart US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also talked on the phone to discuss the negotiations, but the two sides have not been able to reach a compromise.
The amount to be paid appears to remain the main sticking point between the two allies, despite seven rounds of talks since September.
Seoul has insisted on proceeding within the existing SMA framework, under which it paid around 1.04 trillion won ($850 million) last year. But US President Donald Trump wants the country’s allies to pay more, and is demanding a fivefold increase from Korea to about $5 billion per year.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com