James DeHart, the top U.S. negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea, speaks during an interview with the press corps in Seoul on Dec. 18, 2019. (Pool Photo) (Yonhap)
Yonhap News | By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 18 (Yonhap) — The top U.S. negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea said Wednesday that his team is “not focused on” its initial demand for a five-fold increase to US$5 billion in Seoul’s financial contributions to the upkeep of American troops here.
In an interview with the Korean press corps, James DeHart also pointed out that South Korea’s weapons purchases from the United States are an “important consideration for us in the burden-sharing context.”
DeHart and his South Korean counterpart Jeong Eun-bo held the latest round of two-day negotiations in Seoul but failed to narrow the gaps over how much Seoul should pay next year and beyond for the stationing of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).
“The figure will be different from our initial proposal and probably different from what we’ve heard from the Korean side so far. So we will find that point of agreement,” the U.S. official told reporters. “($5 billion) is not a number that we are currently focused on in the negotiations.”
The initial demand has been a lightning rod for searing criticism here, prompting rallies against Seoul’s contributions to the U.S. troops and raising concerns that tensions from the negotiations over the cost-sharing deal, the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), could undercut alliance cooperation on other matters.
Asked whether Washington is asking Seoul to shoulder the costs for military operations that take place off the peninsula but still help defend South Korea, DeHart said that it is “reasonable” to share some of the costs.
“I think it’s a very appropriate discussion to have with the ROK whether they are willing to share in the large cost of transporting American service personnel on and off the peninsula and to be equipped to operate on the peninsula and to be trained to operate on the peninsula,” he said, using the abbreviation of South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.
“Because it is all about the defense of Korea,” he added.