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Seoul, Washington haven’t started talks for defense cost-sharing deal: Foreign Ministry

South Korea reiterated Thursday that Seoul and Washington will discuss the defense cost-sharing deal in a way that is “fair and reasonable,” but said the negotiations have not started yet, denying a claim to the contrary from US President Donald Trump.

On Twitter on Wednesday, Trump wrote as if the new cost-sharing deal were already in place and said South Korea had agreed to a significant increase in its share of the costs for the upkeep of the US troops stationed here. 

US President Donald Trump (Yonhap)
US President Donald Trump (Yonhap)

“South Korea has agreed to pay substantially more money to the United States in order to defend itself from North Korea. Over the past many decades, the US has been paid very little by South Korea, but last year, at the request of President Trump, South Korea paid $990,000,000,” Trump said.

“Talks have begun to further increase payments to the United States. South Korea is a very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense provided by the United States of America. The relationship between the two countries is a very good one!”

But Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said it had not yet agreed to anything, as the negotiations have not begun for this year’s Special Measures Agreement.

“The negotiations (for the cost-sharing deal) have not started,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul said during a regular press briefing Thursday.

“A high-ranking official from the United States visited Korea last month. And I remember telling reporters that we have agreed to negotiate the deal in a fair and reasonable direction.”

According to the Foreign Ministry, it has not yet formed a negotiating team and no date has been set for its first meeting with the United States.

“From what I know, the United States also has not yet formed its negotiation team,” a ministry official said. There also has not been any request from the United States to begin the negotiations, the official added.

South Korea and the US signed their first SMA in 1991, under which Seoul would bear about half of the total expenses necessary to maintain the approximately 28,500 American troops stationed here.

Trump’s tweet appears to be intended to pressure South Korea, as he has long demanded that Seoul increase its payment for the troops.

Trump’s remarks come just as US Defense Secretary Mark Esper was to arrive in South Korea on Thursday afternoon as part of his first weeklong international tour of Indo-Pacific countries including Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as South Korea.

With Esper scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on Friday, there is speculation that he might discuss the defense cost-sharing deal with Jeong. But the Foreign Ministry said the deal would not be on the agenda.

The Defense Ministry said the two ministers would exchange assessments of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.

“They will also discuss issues related to denuclearization and establishing lasting peace here, and others including the condition-based wartime operational control,” Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said Thursday during a regular press briefing.

In the latest agreement, inked in February, South Korea agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won ($920 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the 960 billion won it paid the previous year.

The SMA signed to cover this year’s costs was valid for one year, at the request of the US, whereas previous SMA contracts had been effective for five years.

The deal covers South Korean civilians hired by the USFK, the construction of military facilities to maintain the allies’ readiness and other forms of support.

A new round of negotiations is expected to start again for the 11th SMA before the deal expires at the end of this year.

By Jo He-rim (