S. Korea, U.S. fail to hammer out defense cost accord

SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States Friday failed to produce a deal on sharing the cost of keeping 28,500 U.S. troops here with both sides facing time constraints after the previous pact expired recently.

The latest five-year Special Measures Agreement (SMA), which determined South Korea's contributions to the cost of stationing U.S. troops here, expired at the end of last year.

The two allies have previously held nine rounds of talks for a renewal only to find differences on several issues, including the size of Seoul's contributions and rules to enhance transparency in the use of the defense funds.

These issues continued to dominate and prolong their negotiations on Friday, the second day of the 10th round of the Seoul-Washington talks to renew the pact.

The allies will hold another day of negotiations on Saturday to hammer out the final deals, according to a foreign ministry spokesman.

The U.S. has demanded South Korea contribute about 950 billion won (US$892.3 million) under a new agreement, up 9.2 percent from the 869.5 billion won that Seoul paid last year under the previous agreement, citing increased North Korean threats and U.S. budget difficulties.

Seoul, however, has been reluctant to give in to the U.S. demand, saying it can settle for around 900 billion won.

The allies have also been in disagreement over the contentious issue of Seoul's push to lay down rules to better control the U.S. use of the defense funds.

The length of the renewed pact has also been one of the major points of negotiations.

Sources said the two sides may come up with a package deal over the major issues, but their differing views may further prolong their talks.

They said that the two sides are likely to reach a price compromise midway between their proposed sums.

The countries, represented by Amb. Hwang Joon-kook and Amb. Eric John of the U.S. Department of State, are expected to hold another round of negotiations later, should their Saturday talks fall through again, according to the sources.

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 Seoul-Washington Mutual Defense Treaty had originally put the burden of bankrolling U.S. defense activities here on the U.S. side.

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