S.Korea, U.S. defense chiefs reaffirm commitment to defend against N.Korea

SEOUL - The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States reaffirmed on Friday US commitment for the defense of South Korea against North Korea and efforts to denuclearise the North, the South's Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said.
Jeong said he and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper shared the view that a cost-sharing pact for US troops stationed in South Korea, which is now being negotiated, should be fair and mutually agreeable.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pressed South Korea on Friday to pay more for the cost of stationing US troops in the country and to maintain an intelligence-sharing pact with its other Asian ally Japan that Seoul is about to let lapse.
Speaking after a high-level defence policy meeting with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper also said the two countries have to be flexible in modifying their joint military drills to support ongoing diplomatic efforts to end North Korea's nuclear programme.
South Korea "is a wealthy country and could and should pay more" for the deployment of US military in the South, Esper told a briefing in Seoul after meeting Jeong.
Jeong said he and Esper shared the view that the cost-sharing pact now being negotiated should be fair and mutually agreeable, but it was unclear if they shared any sense of what a fair amount might be.
The United States and South Korea are scrambling to clinch an agreement in the coming weeks to cover next year's costs of maintaining the 28,500-strong US military presence in South Korea.
A South Korean lawmaker said last week that US officials demanded up to $5 billion a year, more than five times what Seoul agreed to pay this year under a one-year deal.
US President Donald Trump's insistence Seoul take on a greater contribution as deterrence against North Korea has rattled South Korea. It could also set a precedent for upcoming US negotiations on defence cost-sharing with other allies.
Jeong said he and Esper discussed personal views on South Korea's decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, called GSOMIA, and that both governments will put in realistic effort to narrow differences before the pact expires on November 23.
Relations between the two neighbours have plunged after South Korea's top court last year ordered Japanese firms to compensate some wartime forced labourers, and Japan curbed exports of key industrial materials to South Korea in July.