US, South Korea seek to seal military deal after furloughs
Iran Press TV
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 10:07 AM
The commander of United States forces in South Korea has urged a prompt resolution of a lingering cost-sharing dispute between the two close allies that has resulted in the furloughing of over 4,000 Korean workers by the US.
"This is an unfortunate day for us, it's unthinkable, it's heartbreaking," said Commander of US Forces Korea (USFK) General Robert Abrams in a video statement on Wednesday. "The partial furlough of (Korean national) employees is not what we envisioned or hoped would happen."
The dispute developed after the US President Donald Trump administration demanded that South Korea pay up to five billion dollars per year to support the presence of nearly 29,000 US forces in the country, up from 870 million dollars under a deal last year.
About half of the nearly 9,000 South Koreans employed by the USFK were put on unpaid leave effective Wednesday after the two allies failed to reach an agreement on a new pact months after the previous accord expired at the end of 2019.
South Korea's negotiator Jeong Eun-bo expressed Seoul's regret on Tuesday that the US Defense Department had decided to follow through with the furloughs even though the negotiations were in their "final phase," saying, "We expect an agreement to be finalized soon."
Meanwhile, South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited an unidentified source as saying on Wednesday that a new deal could be declared as soon as later in the day, "though various possibilities remain still open."
Representatives for the South Korean Foreign Ministry as well as the US Embassy in Seoul refused to elaborate on the status of the ongoing talks, according to Reuters.
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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