The US walked out of military cost-sharing talks with South Korea, after the key US ally balked at US President Donald Trump’s demands for a five-fold funding increase.
Chief US negotiator James DeHart said that the US side cut short talks planned for yesterday in Seoul because the South Koreans “were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden-sharing.”
The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had expected to discuss “an acceptable range for both counterparts” based on past cost-sharing discussions.
Jeong Eun-bo, who led the South Korean delegation, separately told reporters that talks ended when his US counterparts “left their seats first,” adding that the two sides had “quite a big difference in principle.”
The current cost-sharing agreement reached earlier this year expires at the end of the year.
The breakdown raises new questions about one of the US’ closest military alliances and a key piece of the Pentagon’s strategy for countering North Korea and a rising China.
Trump last week sent a high-powered mission led by US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to Seoul to try to convince South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s government to pay more for hosting US troops.
Trump has demanded South Korea contribute about US$5 billion for hosting US troops, well above the current one-year deal where Seoul pays about US$1 billion.
“I’m not going to prognosticate or speculate on what we may or may not do,” Esper said when asked during a briefing yesterday in Manila about whether the US would consider reducing troop levels on the Korean Peninsula.
“The State Department has the lead in these discussions, and I’m sure they are in capable hands,” he said. “We just take this one step at a time.”
Meanwhile, North Korea yesterday said it would not consider the US’ decision to postpone a joint military exercise with the South a concession that could bring the North back to nuclear talks.
Senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol said the US must completely scrap that military drill and abandon its hostility against his country if it wants to see the resumption of the nuclear negotiations.
Kim’s comments were the first direct response to an announcement on Sunday by Esper and his South Korean counterpart that the allies have indefinitely postponed the Vigilant Ace training in an “act of goodwill” toward North Korea.
“The US tries to make a good impression as if it contributes to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, describing the suspension [of the aerial drill] as ‘consideration for and concession’ to someone, but we demand that the US quit the drill or stop it once and for all.” Kim said in a statement carried by state media.
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