Korea and the United States remain poles apart over the fundamental issue of cost-sharing for the some 28,500 U.S. troops stationed here.
The allies will begin negotiations at the end of this month in Washington because the current Special Measures Agreement (SMA), which defines the sharing of costs, will expire this year.
"The so-called Non-Personnel Stationing Cost (NPSC) that the U.S. uses is not acceptable," said an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tuesday. "The concept was made for the U.S. administration to report to the U.S. Congress. Our government cannot accept the U.S. criteria and this will serve as our starting point for the upcoming negotiations."
According to the U.S.-South Korea Relations Report released by the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) on February, U.S. officials called for South Korea to increase its share to "at least 50 percent," estimating South Korea's total financial contribution last year as 836 billion won ($744 million), or 40 to 45 percent of the total NPSC.
Based on the SMA signed in 2008, South Korea is obligated to fund 42 percent of the total cost.
Washington has yet to officially disclose detailed information regarding the NPSC.
Observers say it will strongly demand that Seoul meet the rate following its federal spending "sequester" cuts and the announcement made last week to maintain the current combined command structure even after a transfer of wartime operational control in 2015.
However, experts here claim that the U.S. significantly underestimates Seoul's contribution.
According to data provided by the defense ministry to Rep. Park Joo-sun, an independent lawmaker and member of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, Monday, Korea's funding for maintaining U.S. troops here from 2007 to 2010 amounted to 6.4 trillion won ($5.7 billion), including indirect costs such as rental and tax benefits.
Rep. Park said the figure is two times higher than Korea's official cost of contribution measured during the same period which amounts to 3.1 trillion won ($2.7 billion), meaning the U.S.' system of measuring underestimates Seoul's support.
The Solidarity for Peace and Unification of Korea (SPUK), a civic group, also criticized the U.S. for not reflecting all costs when calculating cost-sharing.
In its report released on Monday, the SPUK claims that an accurate assessment of funding by Korea is high as 65 percent and that the U.S. is casting accounts around "arbitrarily" in order to press Seoul to spend more on maintaining its presence here.
"The government should clarify the U.S. government's fabricated costs in the upcoming negotiations in order to promote the national interest," said the report.
Meanwhile, the government came under fire Tuesday for not compiling statistics on comprehensive cost-sharing for the years 2011 and 2012.
"It is obvious the government must prepare the comprehensive costs for 2011 and 2012 in the face of the crucial cost-sharing talks," stated Rep. Park in a press release. "This proves that the government lacks readiness for the talks."