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S. Korea, US to discuss cost-sharing pact next month

Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (Yonhap)
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo (Yonhap)
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, as US President Donald Trump continues to openly pressure Korea to pay about $1.3 billion for a year, a whopping 49 percent increase from what Korea paid last year.

That is roughly four times the amount that Seoul and Washington shook hands on for a stopgap deal in March. Trump rejected the deal, and senior US officials have since said $1.3 billion was final and rational, compared with the $5 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 be discussed as well.

The latest exchange between the two sides was a phone conversation in early April, when Esper reiterated that Korea should bear a greater proportion of the defense costs.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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