USA breaks off defense cost talks amid South Korea backlash

Clay Curtis
November 19, 2019

"We shared information and had a candid talk on the creative and flexible methods necessary for the success of the denuclearization negotiations", the minister said after a luncheon with the United States official in the Washington.

James DeHart, the chief negotiator for the U.S., said at a press briefing that the USA delegation came "with open minds, and even prepared to adjust stance as needed in order to move towards a mutually acceptable agreement", but that the South Korean team's proposals were not responsive to US' "fair and equitable burden-sharing".

North Korean diplomats said they broke off those negotiations because of what they described as United States intransigence.

The statement by Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan is the latest call by North Korea for USA concessions before an end-of-year deadline set by Kim Jong Un for the Trump administration to offer mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage nuclear diplomacy.

The breakdown in talks was a rare public sign of discord in the "airtight" alliance that has for 70 years formed a buffer against North Korean aggression, with each side blaming the other for being unprepared to compromise on sharing the costs of keeping 28,500 US military personnel in South Korea. But negotiator Jeong said there had been no discussion of reducing the US troop presence in the country.

The new $4.7 billion price tag also angered Seoul, which has successfully negotiated the cost sharing agreement with the USA for decades and is dealing with newly heightened tensions with North Korea.

"We look forward to resuming our negotiations when the Korean side is ready to work on the basis of partnership on the basis of mutual trust".

Trump has floated the idea of pulling USA troops from the Korean peninsula, which remains in a technical state of war under a truce that suspended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The US and South Korea found themselves at an impasse when the former demanded that Seoul spend $5 billion each year for hosting 28,500 American personnel on its soil.

The dispute has stirred debate in South Korea about the USA presence, with some activist groups calling for a big reduction or even a withdrawal of the force.

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A group of 47 South Korean members of parliament last week accused the United States of threatening to pull its troops out.

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

"U.S. forces are here also for their own interests, as an outpost aimed at keeping China and Russian Federation in check", the group said.

In his tweet, Trump told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to reach a deal, saying: "You should act quickly, get the deal done" and hinted at another meeting, signing off with "See you soon!"

Jeong said the United States had not raised the issue of a reduction or withdrawal of its troops.

Trump has long railed against what he says are inadequate contributions from allies towards defense costs.

Kim Yong-chol also downplayed the recent decision by the United States and South Korea to defer their joint warplane exercise scheduled for this month, saying the move does not guarantee peace on the Korean Peninsula and does not help resolve their differences.

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

Around 300 protesters gathered outside the venue where the talks began on Monday accusing the United States of "robbery", South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

His statement came hours after KCNA reported that Kim Jong Un supervised a parachuting drill by military sharpshooters and vowed to build an "invincible army", displaying more defiance despite the decision by the US and South Korea to shelve their drills. Ruling party lawmakers said this week they would refuse to ratify an "excessive outcome".

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