Pentagon, South Korea reach deal on Koreans working at military base

Pentagon, South Korea reach deal on Koreans working at military base
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The U.S. and South Korea have reached a temporary cost-sharing deal to fund more than 4,000 Korean nationals who work at the U.S. Forces Korea military base, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The agreement, which lasts through the end of the year, will allow Korean nationals who were furloughed after a Special Measures Agreement (SMA) expired on Dec. 31 to return to work no later than mid-June.

The Defense Department said in the statement that the $200 million deal “is a direct reflection of the United States’ commitment to readiness, to our Korean employees, and to the Alliance - 'the linchpin of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.'”

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The countries agreed to the deal after failing to negotiate the SMA, a broader defense cost-sharing agreement, Stars and Stripes reported. South Korea and the U.S. have yet to finalize negotiations for the SMA.

The Trump administration last year attempted to get South Korea to pay about $1.6 billion to house U.S. troops but later agreed to $1 billion with the understanding that the SMA would be negotiated for 2020. But subsequent negotiations earlier this year were not successful, leading to a lapse of the SMA.

The Pentagon’s statement on Tuesday called for the countries to reach a “fair agreement as quickly as possible” and for “flexibility” from South Korea on the SMA.

“In regards to the lapsed SMA, the Department of Defense believes that equitable burden-sharing between the governments of the United States and the Republic of Korea is in the best interest of all parties,” the statement said.

“Without an agreed upon SMA, critical defense infrastructure projects will remain suspended, all logistics support contracts for USFK will continue to be paid completely by the U.S., and burden sharing will remain out of balance for an Alliance that values and desires parity,” the Pentagon added.

The U.S. has almost 30,000 troops based in South Korea.

Senior U.S. military officials and defense officials had warned earlier this year that without a renewed SMA agreement, as many as 9,000 Korean workers could end up furloughed.

Officials have expressed concern that the lack of a negotiated SMA could jeopardize the U.S. military mission in the region and the country’s tensions with North Korea.