US negotiator for defence cost-sharing talks arrives in Seoul

Seoul, May 18 (IANS) The US negotiator for defence cost-sharing talks with South Korea arrived here on Saturday, ahead of a new round of negotiations set for next week.

The arrival of the delegation, led by Linda Specht, lead negotiator for security agreements at the US State Department, came as the allies are set to hold their second round of talks on determining how much Seoul should shoulder for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong US Forces Korea (USFK), Yonhap news agency reported.

“This is really about the importance of our alliance, our relationships as two countries and the support we give one another,” Specht told reporters upon arriving at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul.

“I’m looking forward to a good set of talks,” she said.

The talks will take place in Seoul from Tuesday through Thursday, between Specht and her South Korean counterpart, Lee Tae-woo, the chief negotiator from Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

Seoul and Washington launched the negotiations in Hawaii last month, at an earlier time than planned, amid a view that South Korea seeks to strike a new deal sooner to avoid the risk of facing tough bargaining from the US for a big increase in its share if former President Donald Trump is re-elected in November.

The two sides had gruelling negotiations for the latest deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), as Washington under Trump’s presidency had demanded more than a fivefold increase in Seoul’s payment to $5 billion.

The negotiations had hit a deadlock, placing South Koreans working for the US military here under a temporary furlough amid the absence of an agreement.

The current 11th SMA was signed soon after the launch of the Joe Biden administration.

Under the six-year deal, due to expire at the end of 2025, South Korea agreed to raise the payment by 13.9 per cent from 2019 to $1.03 billion for 2021.

Seoul has called for a new deal to come at a “reasonable level” to ensure the conditions for the “stable stationing of the USFK and to strengthen the allies’ combined defence posture”.

Washington has said it seeks to pursue “a fair and equitable” outcome in the talks, as most of Seoul’s contributions to the SMA are expended in South Korea’s domestic economy, representing a “powerful investment” in the bilateral alliance.

Since 1991, Seoul has partially shouldered costs under the SMA for Korean USFK workers; the construction of military installations, such as barracks, and training, educational, operational and communications facilities; and other logistical support.



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