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U.S., South Korea nearing end of burden sharing negotiations, reports say

U.S. State Department officials and their South Korean counterparts are planning to settle defense cost negotiations soon, according to multiple press reports. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA
U.S. State Department officials and their South Korean counterparts are planning to settle defense cost negotiations soon, according to multiple press reports. File Photo by Jeon Heon-kyun/EPA

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- South Korea said negotiations with the United States on the Special Measures Agreement is likely to conclude soon, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the suspension of any troop withdrawal until the completion of a military review.

Seoul's foreign ministry said Friday that U.S. and South Korean diplomats held the eighth meeting on the 11th Special Measures Agreement via videoconference, the Donga Ilbo reported. The agreement is a bilateral pact on defense burden sharing for U.S. troops on the peninsula.

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According to the ministry, the two sides held "sincere discussions to resolve differences" over Seoul's share of the costs.

"By concluding the defense cost sharing negotiations as soon as possible, [both sides] decided to contribute to the strengthening of the U.S.-South Korea alliance as a linchpin of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia and the combined defense posture," Seoul said.

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Disagreements between former President Donald Trump's administration and Seoul over burden sharing strained ties in 2019 and 2020. According to Yonhap, in 2020 South Korea offered to increase its contributions by 13%.

Trump's negotiators demanded an increase of about 50%, after a senior U.S. diplomat suggested a five-fold increase, or about $5 billion, in annual South Korean contributions.

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On Friday, a U.S. State Department official told Yonhap that the Biden administration is committed to a "mutually acceptable" cost-sharing disagreement.

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"We decline to comment on or confirm any specific details of our ongoing diplomatic conversations, but I can tell you that U.S. and [South Korean] negotiators agreed to continue negotiations in the near future and are committed to expeditiously concluding an updated Special Measures Agreement that will strengthen our alliance and our combined defense posture," Yonhap's source said.

U.S. troops on the peninsula train with South Korea and remain on guard against North Korea provocations.

Pyongyang has suspended nuclear talks with the United States. On Friday, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan said talk of "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization" and "final and fully verified denuclearization" is "nonsense."

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The Choson Sinbo also said "instability" threatens North Korea and anti-North forces are to blame.

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