Published: Wed, November 20, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

N. Korea to US: End joint drills once and for all

N. Korea to US: End joint drills once and for all

A U.S. demand for South Korea to quintuple spending for hosting American troops earned a stiff rebuke from Seoul, to which Washington responded by walking out of "cost-sharing" talks to give Koreans time to "reconsider".

"Our position is that it should be within the mutually acceptable Special Measures Agreement (SMA) framework that has been agreed upon by South Korea and the US for the past 28 years", South Korea's Foreign Ministry said, referring to the cost-sharing deal's official name.

"US officials have not publicly confirmed the number, but Trump has previously said the USA military presence in and around South Korea was "$5 billion worth of protection".

South Korean officials agreed there is a substantial difference from USA proposals and those of South Korea.

Jeong also said there were no discussions of reducing the number of USA troops on the peninsula during the negotiations.

The U.S. negotiator added he ended the meeting in order to give South Korea time to reconsider its position.

Denuclearization negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since February's second summit in Hanoi between North Korea's Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump ended without a deal.

Trump has even suggested he could pull USA troops out altogether.

The two sides failed to reach agreement in time for the deadline previous year but eventually agreed to a retroactive stopgap measure in which South Korea increased its share by about 8.2%.

The South Koreans "are obviously and rightfully sensitive to both the exorbitance of the increase demand and the transactional nature of the negotiations", said Jenny Town, a Korea specialist at the Washington, D.C. -based Stimson Center.

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Confirming that the two sides remain far apart, South Korea's chief negotiator Jeong Eun-bo vowed to work "with patience" and make efforts to produce a deal that is "mutually acceptable".

A group of 47 South Korean members of parliament, which must ratify any agreement, last week accused the United States of threatening to pull its troops out.

President Trump has long rallied against inadequate defense contributions from many worldwide allies.

The negotiations are taking place as USA efforts to reach an agreement with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs appear stalled.

Seoul also paid more than 90% of the $11 billion-plus construction costs for expanding Camp Humphreys, the US military's new headquarters base south of Seoul, although that was under a separate agreement.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was in Seoul for talks last week, told reporters in the Philippines that South Korea is a "wealthy country" that "can and should contribute more".

The United States is due to begin separate negotiations for new defense deals with Japan, Germany and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation next year.

North Korean diplomats said they broke off those negotiations because of what they described as U.S. intransigence. "It paid off during last year's SMA negotiations, but the huge leap in demands may be more than (South Korea) can handle".

The turbulent negotiations come at a delicate time for the allies, which face a growing North Korean threat and have squabbled over Seoul's declaration to terminate a 2016 military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan amid a bilateral row.

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