US military to lay off 9,000 South Korean workers amid cost-sharing row
Iran Press TV
Friday, 16 October 2020 9:16 AM
Thousands of South Korean workers will be put on unpaid leave by the US military, as Seoul and Washington remain divided over costs of maintaining US forces on the Korean soil.
The US military said in a letter, seen by Reuters, earlier this month that under a temporary funding, it could only pay the workers until March and from April,it will put nearly 9,000 South Korean workers on unpaid leave.
"We still face a labor funding deficit for the rest of calendar year 2021," said the US military.
"Absent a signed SMA or related bilateral agreement, USFK may need to furlough ... Korean national employees starting no earlier than April 1," it added.
South Korea and the US have failed to reach an agreement on how much of the cost Seoul should shoulder to accommodate US Forces Korea (USFK) in the country.
The allies have failed to reach a cost-sharing deal after the previous agreement, the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), expired at the end of 2019.
South Korea hosts some 28,500 US troops.
Washington insists that Seoul must pay more or it will pull out at least some of its troops from the South Asian country.
Under a temporary agreement in June South Korea agreed to fund some 4,000 of the workers.
The issue was a major sticking point during an annual security meeting this week between US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook in Washington.
The two diplomats said in a joint statement they had agreed to finalize a deal, citing "the impact of the lapse on the alliance," but failed to stipulate pledges to "maintain the current force level of USFK."
Esper had expressed concern the absence of a deal could "impact our joint readiness," according to a South Korean military official.
"But they also reaffirmed 'unshakable commitment' to the combined defense in the statement, that's what we focus on instead of the mere number of troops," Reuters quoted the official as saying.
US President Donald Trump has openly complained about the costs of maintaining US troops stationed in South Korea.
Trump has also questioned the value of their annual joint military exercises and promised to end the drills amid a diplomatic thaw with North Korea, back in 2018.
But diplomacy has gradually halted owing to Washington's refusal to relieve any of the harsh sanctions on Pyongyang in exchange for the goodwill measures by the North.
The North, which conducted six nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017, suspended its nuclear and missile tests in 2018, and demolished a nuclear test site as a sign of goodwill in the course of diplomacy then underway with the US.
Earlier this year, Pyongyang eventually called off two years of the moratorium on nuclear and missile tests and said it would soon develop a "new strategic weapon."
North Korea also vowed to be monitoring Seoul and Washington's annual military drills, which it describes as "rehearsals for invasion."
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