U.S. Defense Cost Negotiator Returns to Seoul

  • By Kim Jin-myung

    November 18, 2019 13:33

    James DeHart, the senior U.S. State Department adviser for security negotiations, arrives at Incheon International Airport on Sunday.

    James DeHart, the senior U.S. State Department adviser for security negotiations, returned Korea on Sunday, just nine days after an informal visit on Nov. 5-8 to gauge opinions here over defense-cost sharing talk. He is meeting officials here on Monday and Tuesday.

    He follows hard on the heels of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also tried to lean on their Korean hosts last week to agree to an exorbitant increase in their share of the upkeep of the U.S. Forces Korea.

    U.S. President Donald Trump has set the end of the year as the deadline for negotiations, apparently so he can trumpet the cost saving in his reelection campaign and benchmark it for similar negotiations with other allies.

    DeHart told reporters at the airport that there is lots of work to do between the two countries to reach an agreement that will provide "fair and equitable" sharing. "I am very confident that with some hard work, we will get to a good agreement," he added. "I hope you will take [the] frequency of my visits as an indication how important this alliance is to us."

    More likely it is an indication how desperate Trump is to produce some kind of palpable vote winner now his efforts to engage North Korea have failed. The two countries failed to narrow their differences in meetings in Seoul in September and in Hawaii in October.

    Washington proposed adding new categories to the existing Special Measures Agreement, which covers personnel, military construction and logistical support costs, and is demanding that Seoul pay for its activities outside the Korean Peninsula too.

    Seoul refused, saying this falls outside the scope of the SMA framework and would in any case turn the U.S. military into a mercenary contractor.

    A senior U.S. State Department official last Friday claimed that Washington and Seoul have always maintained that bilateral relations change according to changes in regional security dynamics.

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