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Seoul, Washington polarized in 3rd talks for sharing USFK defense costs

2013/08/23 16:38

SEOUL, Aug. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States failed Friday to narrow differences in their third round of talks on how to share the costs of keeping American troops on Seoul's soil, a government official said.

"The two sides had heated discussions, mainly on South Korea's proposal to revamp the defense costs sharing system, and we are still wide apart." the official said after the two-day talks ended without progress.

The allies kicked off the negotiations in early July in order to renew their five-year Special Measure Agreement (SMA) that will expire at the end of 2013.

The SMA was first signed in 1991, laying the legal ground for South Korea to help finance the defense activities of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). The Seoul-Washington Mutual Defense Treaty, signed after the 1950-53 Korean War, had originally put the burden of bankrolling U.S. defense activities here on the U.S. side.

Since the first signing, they have renewed the agreement every few years.

The past three rounds of the talks have so far shown that the countries are polarized over two main issues.

Seoul is seeking systemic measures to stop the USFK from using South Korea-contributed funds for their decade-old plan to relocate its Yongsan and 2nd Infantry Division bases to Pyeongtaek, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul, which Washington strongly resists.

Under the allies' land partnership plan in 2004 covering the USFK relocation, the U.S. agreed to finance the relocation of its combat division on its own, but used the defense funds from Seoul to bankroll the division relocation in breach of the agreement.

Washington also wants Seoul to contribute 100 billion won (US$89.6 million) more than what Seoul would be willing to pay, according to officials. Under the latest SMA renewed in 2008, South Korea paid an annual contribution of 869.5 billion won in 2013, which accounts for over 40 percent of the total costs.

The next round of talks is set for late September in Washington.

The U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea under a mutual defense treaty aimed at deterring potential aggression from North Korea. It is a legacy of the Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically in a state of war.

pbr@yna.co.kr

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