S. Korea, U.S. hold small group talks on USFK defense cost sharing
South Korea and the United States held small group talks Saturday on how best to share the cost of maintaining American troops on the Korean Peninsula after past negotiations failed to make headway.
Diplomatic sources said the closed door meeting was attended by Hwang Joon-kook, special ambassador for the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) talks, and his U.S. counterpart Eric John.
The location of the talks has not been disclosed other than that it is taking place on the outskirts of Seoul. Insiders are saying participants will focus on the total amount of money Seoul will contribute toward maintaining the United States Forces Korea (USFK) and also on changes to how the money is spent.
Washington maintains 28,500 troops on the peninsula to deter North Korean aggression. If an agreement is reached, it will go into effect starting next year.
The two sides have held four extended meetings so far where respective views have been laid out on the table.
South Korea has persistently called for measures that will enhance transparency and limit Seoul's share from being used for other purposes not directly related to bolstering the readiness of USFK.
"There is a gap of about 200 billion won (US$186 million) between what the U.S. is asking and what Seoul has said it can give to boost mutual defense requirement," an official who declined to be identified said. Considering this substantial difference combined with other issues, the official said, it may not be easy for the latest talks to lead to a breakthrough.
The two allies aim to conclude the talks by the end of this month, with another extended meeting scheduled to take place in Seoul.