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US defense nominee vows to quickly conclude cost-sharing talks with S. Korea

The captured image from the website of the Senate Armed Services Committee shows Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin speaking in his senate confirmation hearing held in Washington on Tuesday. (Senate Armed Services Committee)
The captured image from the website of the Senate Armed Services Committee shows Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin speaking in his senate confirmation hearing held in Washington on Tuesday. (Senate Armed Services Committee)
The nominee for US secretary of defense on Tuesday said he will seek to quickly conclude stalled negotiations with South Korea to set the latter's contribution toward maintaining US troops on the Korean Peninsula.

Lloyd Austin said an early conclusion to the long-stalled negotiations would be part of efforts to enhance and modernize the US-South Korea alliance.

"The US-Republic of Korea (ROK) Alliance is the linchpin of peace and security in the region. It is among the most combined, interoperable, capable, and dynamic bilateral alliances in the world, and is a robust deterrent to aggression on the Korean Peninsula," the retired Army general said in a written response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Strengthening America's alliances will be at the center of President-elect (Joe) Biden's foreign policy and national security strategy," he added, according to the document released by the committee shortly after the start of its confirmation hearing for Austin.

Seoul and Washington have held talks since late 2019 to renew their burden-sharing pact, known as the Special Measures Agreement, but the negotiations have stalled.

South Korea has agreed to increase its burden by up to 13 percent from the $870 million it paid in 2019, but the outgoing Donald Trump administration is said to have demanded a 50 percent spike to $1.3 billion per year.

"If confirmed, I will focus on modernizing our alliances throughout the Indo-Pacific and will seek the early conclusion of cost sharing negotiations with South Korea as part of those efforts," Austin offered as part of his written answer to the Senate inquiry. (Yonhap)

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