US breaks off defense cost talks amid S Korea backlash over $5b demand


AFP, Seoul :
 The United States walked out of talks on hiking South Korea's contribution for American troops on its soil, Seoul said Tuesday, as Washington accused its ally of rebuffing a "fair and equitable" agreement.
US President Donald Trump has repeatedly demanded the South pay more towards the costs of the 28,500 troops Washington stations in the South to defend it against the nuclear-armed North.
Seoul officials say Washington is seeking $5 billion from its treaty partner next year - a fivefold increase - raising concerns the issue will undermine their alliance.
The latest round of talks broke down in Seoul on Tuesday "because the US side walked out first", said Jeong Eun-bo, the South's chief negotiator.
His US counterpart James DeHart said Washington had "cut short" the meeting to give Seoul "some time to reconsider".
"Unfortunately, the proposals that were put forward by the Korean team were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden-sharing," DeHart told reporters.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on a visit to Seoul last week that South Korea was "a wealthy country and could and should pay more to offset the cost of defence".
The Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that governs cost-sharing for American troops in South Korea has been in place since 1991, and in February Seoul agreed to an eight percent contribution increase for this year, to around $890 million.
The head of the South's parliamentary intelligence committee Lee Hye-hoon said in a radio interview that US ambassador Harry Harris had "repeated the demand to pay $5 billion for defence cost-sharing about 20 times" at a meeting earlier this month.
Seoul's foreign ministry said in a statement it would work to keep contributions to a "reasonable" level and "within the range that is mutually acceptable".
The breakdown comes a day after the Seoul and Washington said they would delay annual joint aerial exercises slated for this month in an act of "goodwill" towards North Korea after months of deadlocked nuclear talks with Pyongyang.
South Korean lawmakers have mentioned US officers had demanded as much as $5 billion a 12 months, greater than 5 instances the 1.04 trillion gained ($896 million) Seoul agreed to pay this 12 months for internet hosting the 28,500 troops.
US officers haven't publicly confirmed the quantity, however Trump has beforehand mentioned the US army presence in and round South Korea was "$5 billion value of safety".
The negotiations are going down as US efforts to succeed in an settlement with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes seem stalled, forward of a year-end deadline from Pyongyang for the US to shift its strategy.
Lee Hye-hoon, head of South Korea's parliamentary intelligence committee, mentioned in a radio interview on Tuesday the US ambassador to South Korea talked to her at size earlier this month about how Seoul had been solely paying one-fifth what it ought to have been paying for the price of stationing the troops.
Underneath South Korean regulation, the army cost-sharing deal have to be accredited by parliament.
Ruling occasion lawmakers have mentioned this week they'll "refuse to ratify any extreme final result of the present negotiations" that deviate from the established precept and construction of the agreements for about 30 years.
Trump has railed towards what he says are insufficient contributions from allies in the direction of defence prices.
The US is because of start separate negotiations for brand spanking new defence cost-sharing offers with Japan, Germany and NATO subsequent 12 months