The U.S. military began issuing furlough notices to its almost 9,000 South Korea civilian employees on Wednesday. Seoul and Washington have been deadlocked over a new defense cost-sharing agreement on the Korean Peninsula. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. military has begun issuing a notice of a potential furlough to its nearly 9,000 South Korean civilian employees as a defense cost-sharing arrangement between Washington and Seoul remains unresolved.
In a press statement issued Wednesday, United States Forces Korea, the main command for U.S. troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula, said that residual funds from 2019 being used to pay the salaries of the Korean employees would soon run out.
"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 statement said. The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.
An administrative furlough would begin on April 1 if a new Special Measures Agreement, which covers costs for maintaining the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops stationed on the peninsula, is not signed, the statement said.
The military is issuing the notice 60 days in advance of a possible furlough as required by U.S. law.
"USFK greatly values its Korean national workforce and their contributions to the RoK-U.S. alliance and will continue to provide them timely updates for their preparation of a potential furlough," the statement said.
Seoul and Washington remain deadlocked over the cost-sharing agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly asked for a $5 billion annual contribution from South Korea, a more than five-fold increase from the $890 million Seoul paid in 2019.
A sixth round of talks to renew the agreement ended earlier this month in Washington, D.C., without a deal.
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris recently told reporters that the United States has already compromised on its original figure and said the gap between the two sides was narrowing.
However, administration officials are still pressing Seoul to substantially increase its contribution. In a joint op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 16, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper wrote that South Korea "can and should contribute more to its defense."
In a letter to Pompeo and Esper issued Monday, U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., expressed concern about the lapsed agreement, saying it is "creating increasing diplomatic and military risk on the peninsula" and calling for a "fair and mutually beneficial burden-sharing agreement that reflects the realities of the 21st century."
"Our alliance with Korea is critical to deter adversaries, provide stability to the region, shape the environment and endows U.S. forces in the region with leverage that enhances our nation's security, extends our values and enables our prosperity," the senators wrote. "Yet the current U.S. negotiating position appears to contradict these key principles and undermines our enduring commitment to the Republic of Korea."
South Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement after the latest round of negotiations ended that both sides "broadened their mutual understanding and consensus but confirmed that there are still differences."