Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Military cost-sharing talks between the United States and South Korea are unlikely to reach a conclusion by April, when general elections are to be held in Korea, according to a South Korean press report.
A South Korean diplomatic source who spoke to local newspaper JoongAng Ilbo said time is "running out" and negotiations are heating up again with the United States.
The two sides have yet to close a gap regarding the Trump administration's demands Seoul pay between $5 billion and $15 billion annually for U.S. troops on and beyond the peninsula.
The cost increases, which triggered protests in South Korea in 2019, could ultimately unleash a new chain of destabilizing events, including Seoul's decision to independently develop nuclear weapons, analysts who spoke to UPI have said. Korea and Japan are under the U.S. "nuclear umbrella."
Washington and Seoul negotiators last met Jan. 14-15 in the United States for the sixth round of talks for the 11th Special Measures Agreement. In the upcoming seventh round, South Korea is hoping to reach a settlement, according to the JoongAng.
Failure to arrive at a deal could mean serious consequences for employees of U.S. Forces Korea who are South Korean nationals. More than 9,000 South Koreans work for the U.S. military. In January, USFK warned the South Koreans could be furloughed.
A USFK Korean workers' union is expected to raise the issue with USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams on Tuesday. During their meeting with Abrams, they plan to ask for their pay to be sourced from South Korea defense contributions, according to the report.
South Korea is bracing for negotiations at a time when the United States could be seeking Seoul to foot the bill for new base development costs.
Local television network KBS recently reported a U.S. military budget for fiscal year 2021 from the U.S. Department of the Army shows the United States is budgeting $49 million toward the development of the U.S. base in Seongju, the location of the missile defense system THAAD.
The budget did not rule out base development as part of Seoul's costs; Seoul defense officials say there were not consulted on the U.S. budget, according to KBS.