US cites progress in defense cost-sharing talks with S. Korea

U.S. troops in Korea engage in an exercise. They have served as a key deterrent to North Korean invasions but their commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump, has attacked its relevancy. Yonhap. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WASHINGTON D.C., Jan 9, 2020, Yonhap. South Korea and the United States have made progress in their negotiations on sharing the costs for the stationing of American troops on the peninsula, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday, with the two sides expected to resume talks as early as next week, Yonhap reported.

Washington initially demanded a fivefold increase in Seoul’s annual contribution to the upkeep of the 28,500 troops to nearly US$5 billion. After strong resistance from Seoul, the allies have reportedly reached a compromise of sorts ahead of the sixth round of negotiations in Washington.

“I would assess that we are certainly a little further afield than we were during the last round,” the State Department official told reporters on background. “Why? Probably because the calendar has certainly helped not only in Washington, but also in Seoul. There’s also been, I would say, a little bit more of a recognition or reality check amongst South Korea as to how serious we are and stalwart we are in seeking partnership on burden-sharing.”

The previous cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement, expired at the end of last year, leaving the two sides pressed for time to strike a new one.

The negotiations raised concerns of a rift in the decadeslong alliance, with South Koreans holding rallies to protest what they viewed as Washington’s excessive demands.

During one round of negotiations in Seoul last year, the U.S. delegation cut the talks short after South Korea refused to accept Washington’s demands.

The official sought to allay those concerns.

“Our alliance with South Korea is ironclad,” he said. “While we are having a very serious conversation with our South Korean counterparts about what this means as far as their ability to further share the burden on our presence on the peninsula, it does not mean we’re walking away from our alliance.”

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