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US rejects side deal on labor costs for USFK workers

Jeong Eun-bo, Seoul's top negotiator for the defense cost-sharing talks, speaks to reporters before departing for LA at Incheon International Airport on March 16, 2020. (Yonhap)
Jeong Eun-bo, Seoul's top negotiator for the defense cost-sharing talks, speaks to reporters before departing for LA at Incheon International Airport on March 16, 2020. (Yonhap)

The US State Department on Monday reiterated its earlier stance opposing a South Korean proposal to separately discuss labor costs for United States Forces Korea. Korean workers at the US military here were notified that they would be put on unpaid leave amid stalled talks on sharing costs for 28,500 US troops.

“A separate negotiation based solely on labor cost sharing would greatly detract from expeditiously concluding a mutually acceptable and comprehensive Special Measures Agreement,” the State Department told Voice of America, referring to the cost-sharing deal between the two allies.

Jeong Eun-bo, Korea’s chief negotiator, had said Seoul expected to engage in side negotiations with Washington to address specifically labor costs during their talks in Los Angeles from Tuesday to Wednesday. “The expectation is that a side agreement for the labor costs is not off the table,” he said before leaving Seoul.

Jeong had suggested the side deal two weeks ago when the US military was notifying the Korean workers of furloughs starting April 1. The US refused Jeong’s offer at the time, insisting on a “reciprocal, comprehensive SMA.”

Seoul and Washington have yet to work out differences over how much Korea should contribute this year. The US, which had asked for about $5 billion, five times what Korea paid the previous agreement, reportedly cut that to $4 billion, but Korea is still seeking to reduce it more.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)

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