Despite earlier reports that a defense cost-sharing deal between South Korea and the US was imminent, a senior US official said Friday the negotiations are still ongoing and reiterated a call for an “equitable” agreement.
“What I can tell you right now is that we are still in talks with each other -- my colleagues in my bureau and then of course at the ministerial level and higher,” R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military, said in a briefing Thursday (local time), suggesting the matter is being discussed between the two foreign ministers, as well as the presidents of the US and Korea.
“But the important thing is the talks are continuing, looking for mutual benefit and for an equitable agreement by both parties.”
The two allies have been on a stand-off for months over the Special Measures Agreement that expired late last year, which stipulates how much each should pay for the upkeep of roughly 28,500-strong US Forces Korea. In the absence of a new pact, about 4,000 Korean workers employed by the USFK were forced to go on indefinite unpaid leave Wednesday.
Seoul’s chief negotiator Jeong Eun-bo, while expressing regrets over the US’ furlough decision, had said the talks were “in the final stages.”
Local media outlets also reported the two countries have reached a compromise, to have Seoul pay roughly 10 percent more than the 1.04 trillion won ($843 million) it paid last year, down from US’ initial demand of $5 billion. Some observers indicated that the tentative deal may need approval of US President Donald Trump.
But Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said Korea and US have yet to reach a deal, despite ongoing high-level talks.
Meanwhile, USFK commander Gen. Robert Abrams was hit with criticism for his post on Twitter, where he retweeted a photo describing the Korean idiom “to drink kimchi broth.” He had earlier tweeted that he had learned the expression “don’t eat your kimchi stew before the time is right,” which matches “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
While Abrams did not explain whether he was referring to the cost-sharing deal, or posted for other reasons, many viewed the tweet came at an inappropriate time, as it appears to mock Korea’s hype over the deal that hasn’t yet been reached.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com