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South Korea, United States prepare for early talks on sharing defence costs

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LA Post: South Korea, United States prepare for early talks on sharing defence costs
Reuters
Hyonhee Shin
March 04, 2024

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea and the United States have named envoys to launch a new early round of talks on ways to share the cost of keeping American troops in South Korea, the countries said on Tuesday.

The appointment of South Korea's Lee Tae-woo and the United States' Linda Specht comes unusually early for a deal set to take effect in 2026, perhaps aimed at reaching agreement before the possible re-election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

Preparations for the talks had begun, considering that the exercise usually takes more than a year, said Lim Soo-suk, a spokesman for South Korea's foreign ministry.

"Both delegations will endeavour to engage in productive consultations that strengthen the combined defence posture and further solidify our alliance," the ministry and the U.S. State Department said in a joint statement.

But they stopped short of saying when talks would begin.

Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the November election, had accused South Korea, a key Asian ally, of "free-riding" on U.S. military might, and demanded that it pay as much as $5 billion a year for the U.S. deployment.

South Korean media have said the planned early talks on the Special Measures Agreement aim at extending a deal to 2026 and beyond, before Trump's potential comeback.

The current agreement is set to expire in 2025, with negotiations on a successor pact usually held just before the end of the existing one.

During Trump's presidency, both sides had struggled for months to make progress, before reaching a deal when Seoul agreed to increase its contribution by 13.9%, for the biggest annual rise in nearly two decades.

Lee, a seasoned diplomat with experience in U.S. and security affairs, previously served as consul-general in Sydney and deputy nuclear envoy for North Korea.

Specht is a senior adviser and lead negotiator for security pacts in the State Department's bureau of political and military affairs.

Some 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea as part of efforts to deter nuclear-armed North Korea.

South Korea began shouldering the costs of U.S. deployments, used to fund local labour, the construction of military installations and other logistics support, in the early 1990s.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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