Financial expert to lead U.S. cost-sharing talks

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Financial expert to lead U.S. cost-sharing talks

Korea appointed a former Finance Ministry official as the new chief negotiator for defense cost-sharing talks with the United States, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Jeong Eun-bo, who served as vice chairman of the Financial Services Commission and had a long career at the Finance Ministry, will lead the Korean team to negotiate a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA), according to the ministry.

The pact between Seoul and Washington stipulates how much Korea should contribute toward the cost of stationing of some 28,500 U.S. soldiers on its soil. The current deal is set to expire on Dec. 31.

Jeong is the first Korean official selected from the financial realm to lead the cost-sharing negotiations. Up until now, the position has been filled by officials from either the foreign or defense ministries.

The appointment of a financial expert suggests Seoul will not easily back down in the face of U.S. demands.

Jeong will replace Chang Won-sam, who negotiated the current deal and represented Korea during this week’s first round of negotiations, as the government was in the process of selecting his successor.

James DeHart, a former charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Norway, led the U.S. delegation.

The United States has demanded Seoul pay more for the U.S. troop presence. Under this year’s SMA, Korea agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won ($867 million), an increase of 8.2 percent from the previous year.

Wrapping up the first round of the talks on Wednesday, the two sides agreed to work toward a “reasonable and fair” sharing of the cost, according to the ministry.

An official said it would not be easy to seal the deal within this year.

“I don’t think closing the deal in three months would be easy. A lot of effort will be needed to clinch the agreement,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

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