The Korea Herald


Seoul, Washington resume defense cost talks with little progress

By Ahn Sung-mi

Published : Aug. 20, 2020 - 13:17

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(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

South Korea has resumed defense cost-sharing talks with the new chief of the US negotiation team, but no meaningful progress has been reached yet. 

Jeong Eun-bo, Seoul’s top negotiator for the talks, has been communicating with his new US counterpart Donna Welton via phone and email from early this month, according to the Foreign Ministry on Thursday. 

But the two sides are said to have confirmed differences in their positions, while agreeing to continue communication to resolve the defense cost-sharing issue as soon as possible. 

Welton, a seasoned diplomat with vast experience in Japan, was appointed earlier this month to spearhead the US negotiating team to seal a new deal with Korea and for similar cost-sharing talks with Japan set to kick off later this year -- as its current five-year accord is set to expire in March 2021. Her predecessor, James DeHart left the post in July and now serves as the US coordinator for arctic affairs. 

Welton is tasked with striking a new cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement, the pact that governs the upkeep of the roughly 28,500-strong US Forces Korea. Despite seven rounds of talks since September, the two sides failed to clinch a deal, which lapsed at the end of December, largely due to differences over the amount that Seoul should pay. 

US President Donald Trump, who has been insisting that allies should contribute more toward defense, has rejected what Seoul called its “best offer” of a 13 percent hike from last year’s SMA of around 1.04 trillion won ($875 million). The US has asked Seoul to pay around $1.3 billion a year -- an increase of about 50 percent from the previous year. 

It remains uncertain whether the two sides will be able to compromise soon, especially with Trump putting all-out efforts into the upcoming US presidential election, and the COVID-19 outbreak that makes in-person discussion difficult. 

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned Trump for trying to “extort” Seoul to dramatically increase its share of alliance costs. Biden, if elected, vowed to repair damaged ties in key US alliances and reinvent them to advance mutual goals. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (