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Seoul, Washington resume talks on defense cost-sharing


SEOUL, Dec. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States on Wednesday resumed negotiations on the sharing of the cost for stationing American troops here, with both sides seen as nearing an agreement on the prickly issue.

The talks to renew the Special Measure Agreement, which kicked off a day earlier, are expected to last more than two days as the allies are committed to renew the pact on splitting the burden of financing United States Forces Korea (USFK), government sources said.

Time is ticking for the two allies to come up with a renewal of the current five-year SMA, which is set to expire at the end of this year.

The size of South Korea's contributions remains the major sticking point as of now, with Seoul showing reservations about the U.S. calls for a spike from what Seoul has paid under the current agreement, according to the sources.

Seoul wants to keep its current yearly payment level of about 869.5 billion won (US$825.8 million), while Washington is pushing to increase the amount to around 1 trillion won, citing mounting security threats from North Korea.

South Korea's push to lay down rules to enhance transparency in USFK's spending of the Seoul-contributed funds has also caused the talks to drag on.

A compromise may have to be made between the two points, government sources said.

Seoul officials are determined to come up with an agreement within the current round with the sources saying that the two allies may prolong the on-going negotiations, previously conducted over two days, in order to finalize their defense costs sharing talks.

"It is likely that the current talks may go on further (than two days). They're not likely to end today," a government official said.

Ambassador Eric John, who heads the U.S. delegation to the talks, said, as he attends the Wednesday negotiations, that he has "not yet" booked a plane back to Washington. He refused to discuss details of the talks, saying, "No comment."

Seoul and Washington have so far held eight rounds of negotiations to renew the cost-sharing deal, but they've been in vain.

Since their first signing of the SMA in 1991, South Korea has taken on the financial burden of covering what is now more than 40 percent of the cost for stationing 28,500 American troops here. South Korea has renewed the agreement every few years.

The Seoul-Washington defense treaty, under which the U.S. stations its soldiers in South Korea to guard against North Korean threats, had originally put the burden of bankrolling U.S. defense activities on the U.S. side.

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