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U.S. objects to Seoul's proposal to first settle Korean workers' salaries

All Headlines 06:57 February 29, 2020

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. State Department on Friday objected to South Korea's proposal that the two countries first reach a deal on salaries for Korean workers at U.S. military bases before concluding a comprehensive cost-sharing agreement.

A spokesperson for the department said South Korea should look to quickly negotiate a new Special Measures Agreement that covers all of Seoul's financial contributions to the upkeep of 28,500 American troops on the peninsula.

South Korean and U.S. officials hold their sixth-round talks in Washington on Jan. 14, 2020, on the sharing of the costs for the upkeep of 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, in this photo provided by Seoul's foreign ministry. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"The recent proposal by the ROK to launch a separate negotiation based solely on labor cost sharing would greatly detract from expeditiously concluding a mutually acceptable and comprehensive SMA that addresses all facets of the agreement," the spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency, referring to South Korea by its formal name, the Republic of Korea.

"The United States remains committed to concluding the SMA quickly and urges the ROK government to engage toward that goal," he said.

The allies have had six rounds of negotiations on renewing the SMA but failed to reach a deal amid Washington's demands for a significant increase in Seoul's contributions.

Under last year's SMA, South Korea agreed to pay US$870 million toward salaries for South Koreans working on U.S. military bases, construction projects and logistical support.

The U.S. has warned that the nearly 9,000 workers will be furloughed beginning April 1 if no deal is reached. South Korea's top negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, urged the U.S. at a press conference Friday to sign a "memorandum of exchange" to first settle the issue of salaries.

"Furloughs may be avoided if the United States and the ROK reach agreement on a more equitable SMA that supports President Trump's view in which allies and partners should cover their fair share of the costs," the spokesperson added. "The United States remains committed to negotiating a mutually acceptable, comprehensive agreement that provides for fair and equitable burden sharing and strengthens the U.S.-ROK Alliance."

On when the negotiations may continue, he said, "We expect to conduct the next round in the near future."

hague@yna.co.kr
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