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(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. wrap up defense cost talks without breakthrough

09:54 January 16, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES story as talks ended; MODIFIES dateline)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL/WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- Differences still remain between South Korea and the United States over how to share the cost of stationing American troops in Korea, the foreign ministry said Thursday, after wrapping up the latest round of negotiations in Washington.

The two teams, led by Jeong Eun-bo on the South Korean side and James DeHart on the U.S. side, held their sixth round of talks on Tuesday and Wednesday (U.S. time) to renew the countries' Special Measures Agreement (SMA). The previous SMA expired at the end of last year.

"The two sides broadened their mutual understanding and consensus, but confirmed that there are still differences between them," the foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday without elaborating on what those differences are.

During the talks, the South stuck to its existing position that negotiations should be conducted within the framework of the current agreement and that a "reasonable and equitable" deal should be reached, the ministry said.

The two sides agreed to work together to conclude negotiations at an early date, it said.

The allies have shown disagreement over determining Seoul's payment for maintaining some 28,500 U.S. soldiers on its soil. Washington has demanded a significant increase in the financial contributions and creation of additional categories for Seoul to shoulder the cost for rotational troop deployments to the peninsula.

Under last year's SMA, Seoul was required to pay some US$870 million.

Arriving in Washington on Monday, Jeong told reporters that the two sides are narrowing their differences but still remain apart on how to reach a "comprehensive" deal.

U.S. President Donald Trump has branded South Korea a rich country that should pay more for its defense. In a media interview over the weekend, he claimed, "They're going to pay us a lot more."

This photo, provided by South Korea's foreign ministry, shows Jeong Eun-bo (R), Seoul's chief negotiator, shaking hands with his U.S. counterpart, James DeHart, during their sixth round of talks in Washington on Jan. 14, 2020. (Yonhap)



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