About 4,000 South Korean employees at the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) are placed on unpaid leave for the first time as Seoul and Washington failed to reach a defense cost-sharing deal called the Special Measures Agreement (SMA). Amid criticism that the U.S. is using South Korean employees for its advantage in SMA negotiations, there are concerns that the decision could damage the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
According to diplomatic authorities in Seoul, South Korea and the U.S. had talked by phone until Tuesday, the last day before the furlough goes into effect on April 1 but failed to narrow their differences. The South Korean government found it difficult to accept U.S. demands for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution. The government’s plan to finalize the SMA negotiations before the furlough goes into effect fell through. Washington is reportedly sticking to its demand for 4 billion U.S. dollars in Seoul’s contribution to stationing American troops here, a 3-billion-dollar increase from last year’s shares.
Seoul’s negotiators met their counterpart in Los Angeles in mid-February and proposed that the issue of South Korean employees at USFK should be handled separately from SMA negotiations. But Washington turned down the offer. Therefore, the only way to stop the planned furlough was to reach agreement on the 11th SMA. Washington seems to believe that the furlough will give them an advantage in negotiations since Seoul will likely to make more concessions with the livelihood of South Korean employees on the line.
Some point out that the negotiations could lose momentum if the furlough goes into effect on Wednesday because the date served as a deadline for agreement to be reached for both countries. “Once the furlough goes into effect, both countries will lose momentum to reach the agreement,” said a diplomatic source.
Gi-Jae Han email@example.com · Kyu-Jin Shin firstname.lastname@example.org