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US says 'most' S. Korean workers to be furloughed if no defense deal is reached

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The United States will furlough "most" South Korean nationals employed at its military bases on the peninsula if no defense cost-sharing deal is reached by the beginning of April, the Pentagon said Sunday.

In a rare "media advisory" previewing Monday's meeting in Washington between South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the Pentagon said the pair will discuss a range of bilateral issues, including the regional security environment, policy toward North Korea, the planned transition of wartime operational control, and the bilateral cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement.

The two sides have held six rounds of talks to renew last year's defense cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), under which South Korea agreed to pay some $870 million toward the cost of keeping 28,500 American troops stationed on the peninsula.

The South's contributions were used to cover the wages of South Korean workers at US military bases, payment toward some construction projects and logistical support. The funds will be exhausted March 31, the advisory said.

"If agreement cannot be reached on a comprehensive new SMA, it will be necessary to furlough most KN employees on April 1, 2020, and suspend many construction and logistics activities," it said.

Nearly 9,000 South Koreans are currently employed on the bases.

The US has demanded a hefty increase in Seoul's contributions.

The Pentagon claimed that "the vast majority of SMA contributions (go) back into the ROK economy." ROK stands for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.

It also said that in the absence of South Korea's agreement to a new SMA that "covers costs more equitably," US Forces Korea has ensured continuity of its operations "by programming US funds to sustain the salaries of its Korean National workforce."

The Pentagon said it will "fund critical USFK logistics cost sharing contracts and the salaries of key USFK Korean National employees who provide these services. All other services supported by KN employees will need to be suspended in an orderly and deliberate fashion."

It added: "Furloughs may be avoided if the ROK agrees to a more equitable SMA. The United States remains committed to negotiating a mutually acceptable agreement which provides for fair and equitable burden sharing and strengthens the US-ROK alliance."

USFK welcomed Esper's decision to support critical USFK logistics contracts and key Korean employees who provide life, health, safety and other readiness services.

"As we just received this information, we're analyzing this decision now to include the number of Korean National employees who will not be furloughed, and will inform our communities as this information becomes available," USFK said in a message to reporters. (Yonhap)

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