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U.S., South Korea agree to flexibility on $5B military cost-sharing demand

By Elizabeth Shim
U.S., South Korea agree to flexibility on $5B military cost-sharing demand
U.S. and South Korean negotiators agreed to extend a year-end deadline on burden sharing talks on Wednesday. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun

Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. negotiator on defense burden sharing with South Korea denied the Trump administration is seeking $5 billion annually from Seoul in a rare public statement on Wednesday.

U.S. State Department negotiator James DeHart made the remarks following the fifth round of negotiations for the 11th Special Measures Agreement between the countries, South Korean television network SBS reported.

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"The figure will be different from our initial proposal and probably different from what we've heard from the Korean side so far," DeHart said in Seoul. "So we will find that point of agreement."

The U.S. official said $5 billion "is not a number that we are currently focused on in the negotiations," according to Yonhap.

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DeHart and his South Korean counterpart Jeong Eun-bo also agreed to go beyond a year-end deadline and continue negotiations into 2020, according to reports.

U.S. demands for a five-fold increase in defense burden sharing have been met with opposition and protests in the South.

On Wednesday the South Korean foreign ministry said in statement following the talks the two sides are "broadening our mutual understanding despite differences of opinion."

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The statement stands in contrast to a previous message stating Seoul's intention to "consult with perseverance" in negotiations with the United States, according to SBS.

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A South Korean official who spoke to SBS said Seoul told the U.S. negotiators South Korean purchases of U.S.-manufactured weapons amounted to about $6.3 billion in the past 10 years, and that South Korea spent $6.9 billion for the cost of U.S. troop relocation to Pyeongtaek.

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DeHart's statement suggesting negotiating flexibility comes about a week after the U.S. Congress agreed on a bill restricting U.S. troop drawdown in South Korea from the current level of 28,500.

U.S. military exercises with the South have been the target of North Korea criticism. The regime has rejected talks with Washington, where military analysts have said a long-range ballistic missile launch could be pending, according to Air Force Times.

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