South Korea and Japan need to be more flexible, with their joint military drills, so as to be able to support ongoing diplomatic efforts to end North Korea's nuclear programme, US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper urged on Friday November 15th, Reuters reported.
Speaking after a high-level meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper also pressed South Korea to pay more for the cost of stationing the US troops in the country, and to carry on an intelligence-sharing pact with its other Asian ally, Japan.
"It is crucial that we conclude the (defence pact) ... with increased burden sharing by the Republic of Korea before the end of the year," Esper told a news conference.
On Thursday November 14th, North Korea said it had turned down a US offer for new talks, ahead of a year-end deadline Pyongyang has set for Washington to show more flexibility in negotiations.
Washington and Seoul are trying to reach an agreement in the coming weeks, to cover next year's costs of maintaining the presence of 28,500-strong US troops, aimed at deterring North Korea.
Jeong said he and Esper confirmed that the cost-sharing pact now being negotiated should be fair and mutually agreeable, but it was not clear if they shared any sense of what a fair amount might be.
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, a South Korean legislator had said.
The discussions, according to Jeong, also focused on personal views on South Korea's decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, called GSOMIA, and that both governments will put in a realistic effort to reduce differences, before the pact expires on November 23rd.
South Korea and Japan got into a spat, after South Korea’s top court ordered Japan to compensate for wartime forced labour, and Japan retaliated by curbing exports of industrial materials to South Korea, in July.