WASHINGTON -- US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said Wednesday that South Korea is an important US ally but no country gets a "free ride" on shared defense burdens.
Biegun, who has been nominated as deputy secretary of state, appeared to underscore Washington's position in ongoing negotiations with Seoul over sharing the costs for the upkeep of 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.
The latest round of talks was cut short this week after Seoul apparently balked at Washington's demand for a hefty increase in its contribution. Reports have suggested the US seeks an increase from $870 million this year to $5 billion next year.
"South Korea is among our most important alliance partners," Biegun told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a confirmation hearing on his nomination.
"That doesn't mean anybody gets a free ride," he added. "We have a tough burden-sharing negotiation that we're in the middle of with the South Koreans. We've asked a lot of the American armed forces to serve abroad on the Korean Peninsula."
Biegun made clear, however, that he believes the US should maintain a troop presence in South Korea, answering "yes" when asked the question by a lawmaker. (Yonhap)