Thu, Jan 30, 2020 - Page 3 News List

US military warns South Korean staff of furloughs


The US military has begun issuing furlough warnings to almost 9,000 civilian South Korean employees, as Washington and Seoul remain at loggerheads over US President Donald Trump’s demand that its ally pay more money for its hosting of US troops.

The notices inform workers at US military facilities in South Korea that they potentially face administrative furloughs as of April 1, US Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement issued yesterday.

The two sides remain deadlocked, although US officials have said that they have backed off from Trump’s initial demand that South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s government pay about US$5 billion a year for US forces stationed there.

That is more than five times the US$900 million in a stopgap one-year agreement that expired on Dec. 31.

South Korea has said that there is quite “a big difference in principle” between the two sides.

“Without the Republic of Korea’s continued commitment to share the cost of employing our Korean National workforce, USFK will soon exhaust programmed funds available to pay their salaries and wages,” the notice said.

Trump’s push for South Korea to contribute much more money for what is known as the Special Measures Agreement has put the alliance under strain at a time when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime has said that it would no longer be bound by its previous promise to halt testing of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles.

The union for the South Korean workers has said that operations at the bases would be paralyzed if there were massive furloughs.

Workers to be directly affected by such notices have offered to work without pay out of concern over how the situation could harm South Korea’s national defense, said Son Gi-o, a representative of the US Forces Korea Korean Employees Union, who called for a deal to be reached soon.

“You can’t put a pause in defending your own country,” Son said in an interview, adding that US government officials “wouldn’t have made such a decision if it had a direct impact on a military base in their own land.”

US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that he expected the alliance between the two countries to remain firm, despite the differences in funding, and said that the South Korean negotiators were “no pushovers.”

“We have to recommit ourselves to maintaining the ironclad nature of that alliance and try to manage that in a way where we can steer this to a successful conclusion,” Rood said.

Still, committee Chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat, said he worried that the Trump administration’s approach “could potentially jeopardize our relationship with South Korea.”

People familiar with the discussions have said that US negotiators have shifted their position as they seek to offer a justification for a far bigger price tag.

After initially suggesting South Korea could make more purchases of US defense equipment, the Trump administration is now focused on other elements, such as asking the country to pay more for temporary troop rotations.

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