Seoul regrets US move to furlough Koreans after military deal failure
Iran Press TV
Tuesday, 31 March 2020 4:34 PM
South Korea has expressed regret over a decision by the United States to place thousands of Korean workers on unpaid leave in an apparent attempt by Washington to use the laborers as leverage after the two allies failed to reach an agreement on a military cost-sharing deal.
Jeong Eun-bo, South Korea's top negotiator in the talks with the US, decried as "regrettable" the planned furloughs of 4,000 to 5,000 of the nearly 9,000 Koreans employed by the US Forces Korea (USFK) and called on Washington to make efforts to enable their swift return to work.
Jeong said on Tuesday that Washington had not agreed to proposals that would have prevented the furloughs, which are due to take place as of April 1.
"The decision by the US side to implement the unpaid leave for our workers as planned does not properly reflect the situation of the negotiations and we think this is regrettable," the South Korean official told a news briefing in Seoul.
"We urge the US to take measures to ensure the workers subject to the furlough scheme can swiftly return to work," he added.
Jeong also expressed optimism for the conclusion of the bilateral talks "in the near future," stressing that Seoul and Washington had "considerably" reconciled their differences in the cost-sharing deal – known as Special Measures Agreement (SMA).
"Currently, South Korea and the US are making their best efforts to conclude the negotiations, now at their last phase, in a mutually beneficial way," he said. "Given that the countries have considerably narrowed differences, we expect the final conclusion of the negotiations in the near future."
Seoul and Washington have been embroiled in a dispute for almost two years over the amount of finance each should allocate for supporting the roughly 28,500 USFK forces stationed in the Korean Peninsula under the SMA, which expired on December 31.
The two sides have held seven rounds of talks to negotiate the SMA since September last year, but they have failed to reach an agreement.
In their last meeting, the US demanded up to five billion dollars a year, more than five times the 870 million dollars that South Korea had agreed to pay last year under a one-year deal, with speculations rising that the delay in the conclusion of the negotiations was due to the US focusing more on the financial interests of the alliance than anything else.
This is while the American military presence in South Korea has stoked anti-US sentiments in the country.
American military personnel have on many occasions caused outrage by committing various crimes, including rape and assault. The US forces were put under curfew in July last year after a drunken soldier attempted to steal a taxi and hit a Korean National Police officer in the process.
The Pentagon insists the troops are in South Korea to deter perceived threats from North Korea.
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