UPDATE : 2019.12.11 WED 09:31
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S. Korea, U.S to launch negotiations on defense cost sharing in Seoul next week: source

South Korea and the United States will launch negotiations in Seoul next week on sharing the cost of upkeep for American troops here, a source with knowledge of the matter said Friday.

Seoul and Washington will likely hold the first round of negotiations on the stationing of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on Tuesday and Wednesday, the source told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.

Chang Won-sam (R), then South Korea's delegate to defense cost talks with the United States, gives a letter of accord with his then counterpart Timothy Betts in a signing ceremony in Seoul on Feb. 10, 2019, in this photo provided by the foreign ministry. (Yonhap)

James DeHart of the State Department will lead the U.S. delegation, the source said.

South Korea is still carrying out internal procedures to select its chief negotiator for the upcoming negotiations, Seoul officials said. But Jeong Eun-bo, a former senior financial ministry official, has been mentioned as the most likely candidate.

The allies are bracing for what would be another grueling tug of war for the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), a defense cost-sharing deal, as the current deal, struck in February and valid only for one year, is set to expire on Dec. 31.

The new SMA talks are forecast to be an uphill battle, as U.S. President Donald Trump has apparently been raising pressure on its key Asian ally to jack up its financial contribution to the USFK, particularly ahead of his full-fledged reelection campaign.

Seoul has said that it would seek its share of the defense cost at a "fair and reasonable" level.

The allies may face off over a series of contentious issues, including the amount of Seoul's payments, the duration of the new SMA and other specific items that will be covered by the cost-sharing arrangement.

Ahead of their new SMA talks, concerns have arisen that any serious dispute from the negotiation could hinder efforts by the allies to maintain close coordination in the lead-up to the envisioned resumption of nuclear talks between the U.S. and the North.

Under this year's 10th SMA, Seoul agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won (US$873 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year.

Since 1991, Seoul has shouldered partial costs under the SMA -- for Korean civilians hired by the USFK, the construction of military facilities to maintain the allies' readiness and other forms of support. (Yonhap)

Kim Do-kyun  edt@koreapost.com

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