March 26 (UPI) -- South Korea's foreign ministry says it is working closely with U.S. counterparts to arrive at a solution on defense burden sharing on the peninsula.
A foreign ministry official told local reporters on Thursday the communication is making progress, and that Seoul is "doing its best and constantly working to arrive at a satisfactory solution."
The Trump administration is seeking a five-fold increase, or about $5 billion, in annual contributions from South Korea for maintaining U.S. troops on and beyond the peninsula.
During the most recent round of talks for the Special Measures Agreement in Los Angeles, the U.S. State Department turned down a South Korean offer to cover the wages of Korean nationals employed on U.S. military bases. U.S. authorities had warned a furlough notice for Korean staff at bases in Korea would go into effect on April 1, if no deal over military burden sharing is reached between the two countries.
South Korea last week reportedly offered to cover the wages of South Korean nationals employed on U.S. military bases, but the Trump administration turned it down.
According to Seoul's foreign ministry on Thursday, communication continues among respective embassies in Seoul and Washington. The goal is to arrive at a "meaningful goal" before Wednesday, when South Korean workers will be forced to take unpaid leave.
U.S. Forces Korea has been combating the novel coronavirus since at least February. On Wednesday, the military declared a public health emergency.
"We want to emphasize this decision is not in response to an increased threat or spread of COVID-19 in USFK. This is primarily about making sure our commanders have the necessary authorities to issue guidance centered on total force compliance and safety," USFK said in statement.
The declaration comes after two U.S. soldiers died at Camp Humphreys in Korea over the weekend. The causes are unknown, according to Army Times.