S. Korea, U.S. end 2nd round of talks on defense cost sharing

South Korea and the United States wrapped up their second round of negotiations Thursday on the sharing of costs for the upkeep of American troops here, Seoul officials said. The three-day talks came about a month after Seoul and Washington launched the negotiations on determining how much South Korea should shoulder for the stationing of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), beginning in 2026. The talks were led by Lee Tae-woo, South Korea's chief negotiator from the foreign ministry, and his U.S. counterpart, Linda Specht from the State Department. This week's negotiations have been about "enhancing the understanding of each other's positions," a foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity. "We exchanged opinions for a mutual review on the main positions and areas of interest in relation to defense cost sharing, which were presented by both sides in the first round of talks in Honolulu in April," the official said. The next round of the negotiations is expected to take place in Washi ngton. The launch of the talks came earlier than planned, amid the view that Seoul wants an early deal to avoid likely tough bargaining with Washington in case former President Donald Trump returns to the White House. Under Trump's presidency, Washington had demanded more than a fivefold increase in Seoul's payment to US$5 billion. Under the current six-year deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), ending in 2025, South Korea agreed to raise the payment by 13.9 percent from 2019 to $1.03 billion for 2021 and increase the payment every year for the subsequent four years in line with the rise in Seoul's defense spending. Since 1991, Seoul has partially shouldered costs under the SMA for Korean USFK workers; the construction of military installations, such as barracks, and training, educational, operational and communications facilities; and other logistical support.