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South Korea, United States prepare for initial talks on defense spending sharing – March 5, 2024

South Korea, United States prepare for initial talks on defense spending sharing – March 5, 2024

South Korea and the United States have appointed diplomats to begin a new, preliminary round of talks on sharing the cost of keeping American troops in South Korea, the countries said on Tuesday.

The appointment of South Korean Lee Tae-woo and American Linda Specht comes unusually early for a treaty that is due to enter into force in 2026. It may be aimed at reaching an agreement before Donald Trump is re-elected as US president.

South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman Lim Soo-suk said preparations for the talks have begun as the exercise usually lasts more than a year.

“Both delegations seek fruitful consultations that will strengthen the common security posture and further strengthen our alliance,” the ministry and the US State Department said in a joint statement.

However, they did not say when the talks would begin.

Trump, the Republican front-runner in November's election, had accused South Korea, a key Asian ally, of “diminishing” US military strength and demanded that the country contribute $5 billion a year to pay for US military deployments.

According to South Korean media, planned initial negotiations on the special measures agreement are aimed at extending the agreement to 2026 and beyond, ahead of Trump's possible return.

The current deal expires in 2025, and negotiations on a successor deal will take place shortly before the existing deal expires.

While Seoul agreed to increase its contribution by 13.9% during Trump's presidency, the two sides struggled for months to make progress before reaching an agreement, the largest annual increase in nearly two decades.

Lee, a senior diplomat with experience in US and defense affairs, previously served as consul-general in Sydney and deputy nuclear envoy to North Korea.

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Specht is a senior adviser and defense treaty negotiator in the State Department's Office of Political and Military Affairs.

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to deter a nuclear-armed North Korea.

South Korea began covering the costs of stationing US troops in the early 1990s to finance local labor and provide military facilities and other logistical support.