Kang off to U.S. for talks on Iran, denuclearization

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Kang off to U.S. for talks on Iran, denuclearization

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha will hold talks in San Francisco this week with her U.S. and Japanese counterparts and will discuss a number of difficult issues at hand, including the stalled North Korea denuclearization talks and the deployment of troops in the Strait of Hormuz.

Also this week, the South Korean and U.S. chief negotiators will begin two days of defense cost-sharing talks in Washington, as the current deal expired at the end of last year.

Kang will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Tuesday, and they will also hold a separate meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.

Kang and Pompeo plan to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a peace regime, evaluate the current situation and discuss ways to develop relations in a “comprehensive and mutually beneficial” manner. They will also discuss the situation in the Middle East.

Washington has been pressing Seoul since last year to join a coalition to safeguard the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Korea has been reviewing its options.

Korea has been closely monitoring the escalation of tensions in the Middle East following the U.S. drone attack of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, leader of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, at the Baghdad airport.

The United States imposed new sanctions on Iran on Friday in retaliation for the missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces last Wednesday.

Japan has said it will send troops to the Middle East for information-gathering and security operations, though they will not be part of a U.S.-led coalition to conduct maritime security operations in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday began a five-day trip to the Middle East. Traveling to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, he is expected to seek support for Japan’s plan.

Seoul could also similarly consider sending Korean troops in order to protect its nationals in the region without officially joining the U.S.-led coalition.

The scope of operations of Korea’s 300-strong antipiracy Cheonghae Unit, which operates in the Gulf of Aden, could be broadened to include the nearby Strait of Hormuz.

Pompeo may call on greater cooperation with its Northeast Asian allies especially in response to North Korea’s provocations. Seoul and Tokyo have been locked in a spat over historical and trade issues, though Korea has said it will conditionally keep its General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan for the time being.

U.S. President Donald Trump briefly met with Chung Eui-yong, director of South Korea’s National Security Office, and Japan’s top security adviser Shigeru Kitamura met Trump last Wednesday at the White House.

Amid stalled denuclearization talks, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared an end to the moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and threatened to unveil a “new strategic weapon” at the end of last year.

Seoul and Washington have also been negotiating since last September on renewing their bilateral Special Measures Agreement (SMA) for the upkeep of 28,500 U.S. troops in Korea as their current one-year deal expired on Dec. 31.

Jeong Eun-bo, Korea’s chief negotiator for the 11th SMA, is set to meet James DeHart - his U.S. counterpart and the senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs - Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington. The two envoys met in Seoul last month.

During a press interview on Dec. 18, DeHart said that the total cost being negotiated is lower than the $5 billion that has been initially reported in media.

In an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Friday, Trump again said that Seoul is “going to pay us a lot more” for maintaining U.S. troops on the peninsula ahead of the latest round of defense cost-sharing talks.

“We are going to help them, but these rich countries have to pay for it. South Korea gave us $500 million,” said Trump. “I said you got to help us along. We have 32,000 soldiers in South Korea protecting it from North Korea. You’ve got to pay. And they gave us $500 million.”

He continued, “They’re a wealthy country. They build all your television sets. They took that away from us.”

Trump continued, “I said look, we’re protecting you; You got to pay. They paid us $500 million. They’re going to pay us a lot more.”

Under the current 10th SMA, signed in February 2019, Seoul agreed to pay 1.04 trillion won, which amounted to some $920 million at the time of implementation, or around 8.2 percent more than what Korea spent under the 9th SMA.

South Korea’s Army Chief of Staff Gen. Suh Wook will also meet with U.S. Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James McConville this week in the United States on strengthening the alliance.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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