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U.S., South Korea to discuss military cost sharing in Hawaii

WASHINGTON >> U.S. and South Korean officials outlined respective visions for a new agreement on sharing the cost of keeping American troops in South Korea in talks this week and will continue to consult as necessary, the chief U.S. negotiator said Friday.

The allies named envoys in March to launch early talks for a new deal to take effect in 2026. South Korean media said the aim was for an agreement before any November election comeback by former President Donald Trump, who during his presidency accused Seoul of “free-riding” on U.S. military might.

Ahead of a first round of talks in Hawaii from Tuesday to Thursday on a so-called 12th Special Measures Agreement, or SMA, chief U.S. negotiator Linda Specht said Washington was seeking “a fair and equitable outcome.”

In a brief statement Friday, Specht said, “The United States and Republic of Korea outlined their respective visions for the 12th SMA. … We will continue to consult whenever necessary to further strengthen and sustain the Alliance under the 12th SMA.”

A senior Biden administration official told Reuters in March that the talks were on track and ahead of schedule, but the U.S. did not see November as a “hard deadline.”

More than 28,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea as part of efforts to deter nuclear-armed North Korea.

South Korea began shouldering the costs of the deployment, used to fund local labor, the construction of military installations and other logistical support, in the early 1990s.

During Trump’s presidency the sides struggled for months to reach a deal before Seoul agreed to increase its contribution by 13.9% over the previous 2019 pact, under which Seoul had paid about $920 million annually. It was the biggest annual rise in nearly two decades.

Trump had demanded Seoul pay as much as $5 billion a year.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, from 2016 through 2019 the U.S. Defense Department spent roughly $13.4 billion in South Korea to pay military salaries, construct facilities and perform maintenance, while South Korea provided $5.8 billion to support the U.S. presence.

The current deal expires in 2025, with negotiations on a successor pact usually held just before the end of the existing one.