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S. Korea, U.S. begin defense cost-sharing talks for final conclusion


S. Korea, U.S. begin defense cost-sharing talks for final conclusion

SEOUL, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- South Korea and the United States began the ninth round of senior-level talks to reach a final conclusion on how to share costs for the U.S. 28,500 troops stationed here, local media reported Tuesday.

The ninth round of negotiations for the five-year Special Measures Agreement (SMA) were held in Seoul after the prior eight rounds of talks failed to narrow differences between Seoul and Washington.

The current SMA is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Given necessary internal procedures for ratification, negotiators of both sides set no deadline for the ninth round of dialogue to reach an agreement this time.

Differences remained over how much South Korea will pay for the presence of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). Seoul has reportedly offered to keep its payment share at 869.5 billion won (820 million U.S. dollars), but Washington has demanded a hike to around 1 trillion won.

The U.S. faced growing financial burden to station its 28,500- strong forces in South Korea as Washington was hit hard by the partial government shutdown amid lackluster economic growth.

U.S. President Barack Obama has sought the rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific, but Washington asked its Asian allies such as South Korea and Japan to contribute more to its policy shift.

Another thorny issue was whether to revise the cost-sharing mechanism. Seoul has called for setting limitations to its financial contributions used only for the purpose of the USFK's defense readiness, but Washington demanded the contribution that can be diverted to other purposes such as the relocation of its barracks.

The two allies singed their first SMA in 1991. The latest deal was reached in 2008, with Seoul agreeing to pay 4.07 trillion won for the next five years through 2013.