October 04, 2019 09:52
The U.S. Forces Korea has threatened to send 9,000 Korean staff on unpaid leave from next April unless Seoul agrees to increase its share of the USFK's upkeep costs by year's end.
The cost-sharing talks started in late September but Seoul has hinted that Washington's demands are unreasonable.
Choe Ung-sik, the head of the USFK's Korean employees' union, on Wednesday told the National Assembly that he received a letter containing the threat from USFK headquarters the previous day.
In the letter, USFK's Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Stephen C. Williams said, "As required by U.S. law and United States Forces Korea-Korean Employees Union agreements to provide six-month's notice of a potential lapse in Special Measures Agreement contributions, on October 1, 2019 U.S. Forces Korea notified the ROK Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Korean Employees Union on the timeline for a potential furlough of USFK Korean National and Korean Service Corps (KSC) employees that could occur on April 1, 2020 absent an agreed upon SMA.
Due to the ongoing consultative talks between the U.S. and Republic of Korea delegations, we are unable to speculate on potential outcomes related to the SMA negotiations. We remain hopeful for a swift conclusion to SMA discussions to mitigate a potential lapse in contributions that directly support compensation for the nearly 9,000 members of the USFK Korean National workforce currently employed in Korea."
Korea already increased its share to nearly US$1 billion last year and now U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly wants to hike the amount five-fold.
So far the Korean government has stalled by only naming its chief negotiator on the first day of talks in Seoul last month. But now the U.S. is ramping up pressure to settle by year's end. President Moon Jae-in's meeting with Trump in New York last month seems to have made no difference.
USFK headquarters sent a similar letter to the Korean side during the last talks.
Shin Beom-chul at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies said, "In past years, the U.S. did similar things ahead of the negotiations, but the $5 billion the U.S. is now demanding is such an extortionate amount that the pressure is felt quite differently."
The government believes that the U.S. eventually expects to settle for $2 billion, or double the current amount.
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