SEOUL — A linguistic quibble over the word “equitable” has South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, local military experts and local media arguing about what Donald Rumsfeld expects in next year’s cost-sharing formula.

In an Aug. 17 letter to South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung, the U.S. defense secretary called for an “equitable” formula to share the cost of hosting the U.S. military in South Korea, according to the Korean defense ministry.

But as news of the letter leaked over the weekend, some military experts and media translated the word equitable as an equal split, with South Korea paying half of U.S. Forces Korea’s costs.

If true, that would mark a significant increase in South Korea’s current payment, which is about 38 percent of USFK’s overall costs.

On Monday, the Korean defense ministry issued a written statement saying they believe “equitable” to mean fair or just, and that Rumsfeld’s choice of words doesn’t suggest a specific 50-50 ratio.

Asked to further define “equitable,” Air Force Maj. T. David Smith, a Pentagon spokesman for Pacific affairs, said the letter was private communication between the two defense ministers.

“The letter in question was in response to South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung, and therefore, it would be innapropriate for us to discuss the details contained in the correspondence,” Smith told Stripes Monday.

USFK spokesman David Oten said Monday afternoon it had not received any information from the Pentagon on the letter.

Discussion of cost-sharing is expected to come up in this fall’s annual Security Consultative Meeting between the two military leaders.

Currently, both countries agreed that South Korea would pay 680 billion won for 2005 and 2006, which at today’s exchange rate would be $707 million. According to USFK, that formula accounted for about 40 percent of the American military cost in 2005 and is expected to cover about 38 percent of this year’s costs.

That money is used to cover local supply contracts, construction projects and salaries for Korean workers at the U.S. bases, according to USFK.

In the past, the U.S. has argued that South Korea should pay more; Japan, for instance, pays about 75 percent of the cost of its American military presence.

South Korea, however, has argued that as U.S. forces shrink here, so should the bill. The U.S. military is in the midst of a plan to remove 12,500 troops from the peninsula, from 37,500 to 25,000. Currently, there are about 29,000 U.S. troops here.

Rumsfeld’s letter also set 2009 as a goal for South Korea to take control of its own military forces should war break out on the peninsula. Under current agreements, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell would command all forces during the time of war on the peninsula.

More recently, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has said 2012 is a more suitable date.

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