Seoul, Washington make little headway in defense burden talk

SEOUL, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States on Thursday failed to reach a final deal on how to share the cost of keeping American troops here due to differences on the size of Seoul's contribution.

The talks marked the 10th round of negotiations aimed at renewing the allies' latest five-year Special Measures Agreement (SMA), which determines South Korea's share in the cost of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in the nation.

Since forging their first SMA in 1991, South Korea has shouldered part of the defense cost, and its share has increased every few years when the military agreement was renewed. The latest agreement expired at the end of last year.

The size of South Korea's contribution was a major sticking point in the already long-drawn-out negotiations, according to negotiators, with growing pressure from the U.S. amid the Pentagon's defense budget cut under sequestration.

The U.S. is reportedly demanding South Korea contribute about 950 billion won (US$891 million) under a new agreement, up 9.2 percent from 869.5 billion won that Seoul paid under the previous agreement in 2013.

Seoul officials are reportedly pushing to settle around 900 billion won, given that the annual rate of increase under the previous five-year SMA was capped at 4 percent.

South Korea's push to lay down rules to improve the transparency in the U.S.' use of Seoul's contributions has also been a major point of negotiations.

As the two sides ended the talks without progress, another round of talks will be held on Friday, Seoul's foreign affairs ministry said.

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