January 30, 2020 09:59
The U.S. Forces Korea has told its 9,000-odd Korean staff that they may be sent on unpaid leave if Seoul and Washington are unable to reach a new defense cost-sharing deal.
In a press release Wednesday, the USFK said since last year's cost-sharing agreement has lapsed, it "began providing Korean national employees today with a 60-day notice of a potential administrative furlough that could occur on April 1, 2020 absent an agreed-upon" fresh deal.
The move is the latest U.S. gambit in its attempts to squeeze billions more out of Korea for the upkeep of 28,500 American soldiers stationed here. The USFK added it is holding townhall meetings across the country for Korean workers from Tuesday until Thursday.
The two countries are poised to hold another round of cost-sharing negotiations around Feb. 6-10. The Korean negotiators are expected to put forward a compromise proposal to meet Washington's demand for a bigger contribution to the alliance by promising to buy more U.S. weapons in return for minimizing the increase in Seoul's share.
Washington originally demanded an exorbitant $5 billion a year after persistent complaints from U.S. President Donald Trump that Korea is paying less than its fair share.
Senior Democratic senators and congressmen accused the Trump administration on Tuesday of arm-twisting and urged the administration to reconsider an attitude toward negotiations that might endanger the alliance.
In an open letter to the state and defense secretaries, Bob Menendez, the Democratic ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed, the Democratic ranking member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, wrote, "The Administration's fixation on its notion of burden-sharing belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of our alliance with [Korea] and the importance of the U.S. strategic position in the Indo-Pacific, and is almost-guaranteed to fail."
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