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Cost-sharing talks finish first round in Hawaii

Mar 13,2018
Seoul and Washington wrapped up a first round of discussions for the renewal of a cost-sharing agreement for maintaining American troops in Korea last week and agreed to hold the next meeting in mid-April in what looks to be difficult negotiations.

The negotiations for a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) take place as the Donald Trump administration has called on allies to pay a greater share of costs amid American protectionism. The current pact expires at the end of this year.

Seoul has been bracing for tough trade and defense negotiations with Washington, and a South Korean Foreign Ministry official told reporters in Seoul Monday, “I can say that they will be difficult negotiations … This is not something that would conclude after one or two rounds of discussions.

“The two sides agreed to conduct cost-sharing negotiations in the direction of strengthening the Korea-U.S. alliance and its combined defense posture,” said the official. “Korea and the United States shared information and opinions on how they contributed to the maintenance and advancing of the alliance.”

Korea’s delegation to the three-day talks in Honolulu, Hawaii, from Wednesday to Friday was headed by top negotiator to the 10th SMA, Chang Won-sam.

Chang spoke with a U.S. delegation led by Timothy Betts, acting deputy assistant secretary for plans, programs and operations at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

The exploratory round of talks also coincided with the announcement on Thursday of a historic summit being planned between North Korea and the United States.

The two sides convened five official meetings and one informal one to serve as an icebreaker since it was the first time the two top negotiators met.

“They exchanged wide-ranging viewpoints and agreed to continue in future negotiations based on mutual trust and respect,” the Korean official added, including discussions on costs, a timeline and reform of the system.

The next round of talks is expected to take place during the second week of April in Korea, though an exact location has yet to be decided.

On whether the cost of maintaining the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in Korea was mentioned, the official replied, “There is nothing much more to say than that we are focusing on the conditions for the long-term stationing of U.S. troops in Korea.”

The SMA, a multi-year cost-sharing deal under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), establishes what Korea will contribute to the non-personnel costs associated with keeping U.S. troops in the country.

Since 1991, the two countries have conducted nine rounds of negotiations to decide what Korea’s financial contribution should be, and the current five-year agreement, the ninth of its kind, is set to expire on Dec. 31.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]