New envoy for cost-sharing talks

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New envoy for cost-sharing talks

Korea and the United States will face off in a second round of talks on the sensitive issue of renewing their bilateral defense cost-sharing deal in Hawaii from Tuesday to Thursday.

Seoul’s delegation will be led by its new negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, a finance expert rather than an official with a foreign affairs or defense background.

The first round of talks for the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) were held last month as the current one-year deal is set to expire on Dec. 31. Chang Won-sam, who negotiated the 10th SMA, represented Korea during the first round before Jeong’s appointment.

Jeong, a former vice chairman of the Financial Services Commission who had a long career in the Finance Ministry, will face off against James DeHart, senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

DeHart, a career diplomat, was named to his position on Sept. 10. The State Department describes him as the U.S. lead negotiator for “bilateral security agreements ranging from status of forces and defense cooperation to burden-sharing agreements with foreign partners.”

He previously served as assistant chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, an acting deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), a director of the Office of Afghanistan Affairs reporting to the department’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) and a director for Central Asia for the White House National Security Council Staff. He is also an expert on NATO affairs.

Washington has been pressuring Seoul to pay as much as $5 billion a year, or some five times the current amount. Under the 10th SMA, Seoul agreed to pay nearly 1.04 trillion won ($888.8 million) this year, which was 8.2 percent more than what Korea spent the previous year for the stationing of 28,500 U.S. troops here.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told the JoongAng Ilbo Monday that it is important to conclude the negotiations by “the end of the year” as not to leave a gap between the bilateral SMAs, which have been in place since 1991.

In a statement Friday announcing the talks in Honolulu this week, the State Department called the bilateral burden-sharing agreement “the mechanism by which [South Korea] shares the costs of U.S. forces to defend [South Korea].”

While Washington appreciates “the considerable resources” Korea provides to the alliance, the State Department added that U.S. President Donald Trump “has been clear that [South Korea] can and should contribute more of its fair share.”

The State Department said, “Sustaining the costs of our global military presence is not a burden that should fall on the U.S. taxpayer alone, but is a responsibility that should be shared fairly with allies and partners who benefit from our presence.”

Washington “seeks a fair and equitable outcome to the SMA negotiations for both countries that will strengthen and sustain the resilient U.S.-ROK Alliance,” it added, referring to the acronym for the Republic of Korea, or South Korea.

Seoul has been calling for a “reasonable and fair” deal.

The talks are expected to be a battle of wits between the Blue House and White House, as the National Security Councils both countries are expected to set the overall direction of the negotiations.

The mastermind in the Blue House is Kim Hyun-chong, the second deputy of the Blue House National Security Office, who previously led FTA negotiations with the United States.

Before he was ousted by Trump, John Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, pressured Seoul to pay a much higher share for defense during a visit to Korea in August. There is interest to see what sort of role the new national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, previously the presidential envoy for hostage affairs, will take on the issue.

Some government sources in Seoul say that Washington is aiming to change the concept of the defense agreement from being just about the sharing of expenses of the stationing of the U.S. Forces Korea. As part of its Indo-Pacific Strategy, the U.S. government appears to be demanding Korea pay for other costs of the alliance, such as the cost of deploying strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula or for supporting the U.S.-led coalition to safeguard the Strait of Hormuz.

“The United States appears to demanding Korea to bear the cost of global peacekeeping forces going beyond the Korean Peninsula and for the deployment of strategic assets and joint drills,” said James Kim, director of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. “It can also signify a push for Korea to actively partake militarily in its Indo-Pacific Strategy.”

When asked in a parliamentary foreign affairs committee meeting on Monday about Korea’s plans to partake in a U.S.-led coalition in the Strait of Hormuz, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha replied, “We will continue to review with the United States on what ways we can contribute.”

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