Seoul, March 20 (IANS) Nearly half of South Korean employees with the US Forces Korea (USFK) will be furloughed next month unless the two sides reach a cost-sharing deal, the US State Department said Friday, after the latest round of negotiations ended without an agreement.
Seoul’s top negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, and his American counterpart, James DeHart, held a seventh round of talks in Los Angeles from Tuesday through Thursday to renew the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on splitting the cost of stationing 28,500 American troops on the Peninsula, reports the Yonhap News Agency.
They were initially to meet for two days but extended their negotiation for another day.
The State Department said the gap remained “large” and put the blame on South Korea.
“Given the importance of the US-Republic of Korea Alliance and the urgency of a new Special Measures Agreement prior to furloughs of nearly half the Korean national employees of USFK on April 1, a US negotiating team travelled to Los Angeles under extraordinary circumstances this week to meet over four days,” a State Department spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency.
“Unfortunately, a gap remains in the understanding on the value of the contribution of the American taxpayer towards the national defence of the South Korea. A mutually acceptable agreement will require greater focus and flexibility from the South Korean side to reach a fair and equitable burden sharing that accurately reflects that value,” the spokesperson added.
“The gap remains large.”
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has acknowledged the gap.
Heading into the new round of talks over how much Seoul should shoulder for the 28,500-strong USFK, the negotiation teams faced growing pressure to seek an early deal as some 9,000 Korean employees of the US military faced furloughs that could disrupt day-to-day operations.
The two sides did not announce a date for the next round of talks.
On Thursday, the USFK said that it had completed the process of sorting out its essential Korean personnel to be excluded from the furlough scheme. They are in charge of life, health, safety and readiness services.