Speaking in Seoul after a high-level meeting on Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper also stated that the two countries have to be flexible with their joint military drills to support diplomatic efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear program, presstv reported.
The North has long protested joint military drills, which it condemns as preparations for invasion.
“It is crucial that we conclude the (defense pact) ... with increased burden sharing by the Republic of Korea before the end of the year,” the Pentagon chief told a news conference.
Jeong noted that he and Esper agreed that the cost-sharing pact being negotiated should be fair, but it was unclear if they shared any sense of what a fair amount might be.
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 has long accused Washington’s wealthy allies like Germany and South Korea of taking US security guarantees for granted and says they need to spend much more on their own military.
Trump has rattled South Korea with his insistence it take on a greater contribution for the deterrence against North Korea.
A survey by the Korea Institute for National Unification released last week showed 96 percent of South Koreans were against paying more for the US military presence.
The US, a foe of North Korea throughout the Cold War, has stationed nearly 30,000 military personnel in South Korea, a legacy of the Korean War, in a declared attempt to defend the South against any possible military threat from the North.
North Korea announced in a commentary from state media KCNA on Friday that the US demand for a greater South Korean contribution to defense costs was an “attempt to plunder others” and strengthen its military dominance in the region.
Esper also warned that South Korea’s decision to end an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan, called GSOMIA, would slow Seoul and Tokyo’s ability to directly share information about North Korean military activity.
“The only ones who benefit from expiration of GSOMIA and continued friction between Seoul and Tokyo are Pyongyang and Beijing,” Esper added.
Relations between the neighbors plunged after South Korea’s top court last year ordered Japanese firms to compensate some wartime forced laborers. Japan restricted exports of key industrial materials to South Korea in July.