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US accepts S. Korea’s offer to bear wage costs of Korean USFK workers

Furlough to end ‘no later than mid-June’

A US military base in Seoul. Yonhap
A US military base in Seoul. Yonhap

The United States has accepted South Korea’s initial offer to cover the wages of its citizens employed by the US Forces Korea until the year-end, inching forward in the prolonged defense cost-sharing negotiations, according to officials Wednesday.

“The Department of Defense has accepted the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) proposal to fund the labor costs for all US Forces Korea (USFK) Korean National (KN) employees through the end of 2020,” the US Department of Defense said in a statement, referring to South Korea’s official name, Republic of Korea.

The statement added that all Korean nationals employed by the USFK are expected to return to work “no later than mid-June.”

With the negotiations dragging on, Seoul had proposed resolving the matter of Korean USFK employees’ labor costs first. However, its proposal was at first rejected, leading to some 4,000 Korean USFK employees being furloughed from April 1.

According to the US Department of State, with this offer Seoul will provide more than $200 million to cover labor costs this year.

Saying that accepting the offer demonstrates the US’s “commitment to readiness, to our Korean employees, and to the Alliance,” the State Department said it will contribute to maintaining a combined defense posture.

According to an official with the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two side are currently working on the details and wording of the agreement on labor costs.

The South Korean government plans to submit the issue to the National Assembly, once the deal is finalized with the US.

Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense welcomed the development, adding that it will work to facilitate a quick resolution of the defense cost talks.

The defense cost-sharing talks have dragged on with both sides remaining far apart on the figure despite months of talks.

Seoul has offered an increase of 13 percent, from about 1.04 trillion won ($854 million) of 2019, but the offer has been rejected, with the US reportedly pushing for about $1.3 billion.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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