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FM says S. Korea can negotiate defense cost sharing with US on 'favorable conditions'

March 21, 2024 - 21:43 By Yonhap
Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul (right) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pose for a photo ahead of their talks on the margins of the Summit for Democracy forum in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

South Korea should be able to engage in negotiations on defense cost-sharing with the United States under "favorable conditions," its top diplomat said Thursday, promising efforts to ensure the new deal will be reached at a reasonable level.

Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul made the remarks as the allies are expected to soon launch the negotiations on determining Seoul's share of the costs for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong US Forces Korea. The two countries announced their respective chief negotiators for the talks early this month.

The previous negotiations drew attention as Washington, under the presidency of Donald Trump, demanded a hefty rise in Seoul's share of the burden, reportedly a fivefold increase to $5 billion.

"We have spent more than 2 percent of our GDP on defense, if you compare the US' dissatisfaction with Europe," Cho said in an interview with Yonhap News TV.

Cho was referring to how many of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states are not keeping their promise to spend at least 2 percent of their annual GDP on defense. Trump used this point to pressure NATO allies to pay more.

"Since we have spent more than 2 percent of our GDP, I believe we can engage in the negotiations on favorable conditions in terms of persuading the US," he said.

Cho said the government will engage in the negotiations at a reasonable level to achieve the goals of fostering stable conditions for the stationing of the USFK and strengthening the allies' combined defense posture, among others.

In regard to the South Korean national detained in Russia for suspected espionage charges, Cho said "careful consultations are under way" with Moscow.

"We are focusing on how we can effectively provide consular assistance," he said.

On the controversial return of Ambassador to Australia Lee Jong-sup, Cho repeated the government's position that Lee came back home to attend a meeting of ambassadors to six countries, including Australia, to discuss defense cooperation, slated for early next week.

Lee returned home Thursday only 11 days after he left to assume the job, amid criticism of his appointment and departure when he is subject to an investigation into a Marine's death.

Speculation has been raised that the next week's meeting of the chiefs of the missions could have been organized to give Lee a pretext to return amid worsening voter sentiment ahead of the April 10 general elections, because there has been no precedent for the country holding such a meeting separately. (Yonhap)