Negotiators have since narrowed the gap between the two sides, and South Korea believes an agreement could be reached. But with the shortage of money, the US military command in South Korea on Wednesday placed almost half of South Korean workers in its military bases on leave without pay, for the first time in the history of the alliance of 70 years.
“It is an unhappy day for us. It is unthinkable. It’s heartbreaking, “said General Robert B. Abrams, commander of the US forces in Korea, to the workers on leave. Partial leave “is not what we expected or hoped to happen,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks.
A union representing South Korean workers said about 4,000 of the 8,500 local workers at US bases have been put on leave.
South Korean negotiator Jeong Eun-bo said on Tuesday that the decision to put workers on leave “did not properly reflect the state of the negotiations” and regretted it.
Jeong said negotiations for a new agreement were in their “final stages” and that he expected an agreement to be reached soon.
“There seems to have been progress, but negotiations are still ongoing,” an official with the South Korean presidential Blue House said on Wednesday.
Abrams said the leave was necessary because “scheduled funds” were exhausted in the absence of a cost-sharing agreement.
Under the previous agreement, South Korea paid about $ 870 million for the cost of the presence of U.S. troops, but Trump has said he wants to contribute about $ 5 billion.
Abrams urged the governments of Seoul and Washington to quickly reach an agreement.
“These are our employees, our colleagues, our teammates, and we consider them a family,” he said. “It is an understatement to say that these times are difficult, because no one feels the impact more than our employees on leave.”
Jonathan Pollack, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, pointed out the irony of the White House’s request to fight the novel coronavirus even as the Pentagon continues to push for more money from the country.
“It is both a colossal mess and potentially very dangerous,” he said.
The South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, on the left, called the threat to the livelihoods of South Korean workers “shame and shame”.
“This leave without pay, triggered by Trump’s unreasonable demands, reminds us once again of how far we are from a fair alliance,” he wrote in an editorial.