South Korea and the United States held a new round of negotiations in Seoul on Monday over the sharing of the cost for stationing American troops here amid increasingly strident protests against Washington's call for a hefty rise in Seoul's payments.
South Korea's chief negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, and his US counterpart, James DeHart, led the two-day negotiations, with the allies still far apart on key issues, such as Seoul's total share and what should be included in the cost-sharing deal, called the Special Measures Agreement.
Washington has been heaping pressure on Seoul to shoulder a greater share of the cost for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong US Forces Korea as it stresses its Asian ally is a "wealthy" country that could and should "pay more."
Reports said the US has demanded South Korea pay nearly $5 billion next year to cover expenditures related to the allies' combined military exercises and support for the USFK troops' families.
Under this year's SMA, which is set to expire at the end of the year, Seoul agreed to pay $870 million.
Outside the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, the negotiation venue, dozens of civic groups staged a rally calling for Seoul to declare a freeze on its financial contributions to the USFK, branding Washington's demand an "extortion of taxpayers' money."
Upon arriving in Korea on Sunday, the chief US negotiator said that despite a "lot of work to do," the allies will reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable and will ultimately strengthen the long-standing alliance.
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)