ROK-U.S. News

Stars & Stripes – South Korea president promises stronger alliance with US under Biden administration

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a meeting with leaders of Congress on Capitol Hill, June 29, 2017.



South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday in a speech broadcast to the nation promised a stronger alliance with the United States under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

In North Korea the same day, a rare congress of the ruling Workers Party gave the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, another title, “general secretary,” a sign that Kim is further consolidating his hold on the reclusive country, The Associated Press reported.

With roughly a week remaining until Biden’s inauguration, Moon in an address to his country expressed his confidence in the new administration, along with his hopes of achieving a more positive relationship with North Korea.

“The government will strengthen the U.S.-South Korea alliance in tandem with the launch of the Biden administration,” he said. “And do its last attempt in order to achieve a great transformation in talks, which still stand, between North Korea and the U.S. and between the two Koreas.”

In October, during the final debate before the U.S. presidential election, Biden called Kim a “thug” but said he would meet with him if the communist state agrees to denuclearize. The comment came during a testy exchange between Biden and President Donald Trump over how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

This image from the Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending the eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2020. KCNA

The former vice president accused his rival of cozying up to Kim, whose regime is ranked as one of the worst human rights abusers, with a policy that has allowed the North to continue improving its arsenal.

Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader during a June 2018 summit in Singapore during which they agreed to a vague promise to “work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Trump failed to reduce or eliminate North Korea’s nuclear capability, although North Korea reduced its weapons testing and tensions eased somewhat during his administration.

Moon’s national address on Monday followed reports of the North conducting a military parade in its capital over the weekend.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff had warned of possible military maneuvers by North Korea during the party congress, which convened Jan. 5. The congress was last held in 2016.

“Our military detected signs that North Korea held a military parade related to the party congress at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang late at night yesterday,” according to a statement Monday by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“South Korea and U.S. military authorities are closely following them, including possibilities that the activity could be a rehearsal,” it said.

The types of weapons involved were not immediately known, but other sources say the parade appears to have been scaled back, according to a report Monday by the Yonhap News Agency based in Seoul. Kim has blamed the coronavirus pandemic and international sanctions stemming from the country’s nuclear weapons program for North Korea falling short of economic goals, according to Reuters news service Sunday.

Sunday’s military parade would be the first since October, which marked the party’s 75th founding anniversary, and revealed to the world what was believed to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile.
Twitter: @MattKeeler1231


Read more

NBC News – North Korea’s Kim threatens to build more nukes and bring U.S. to its ‘knees’ as Trump’s term ends

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un called the U.S. his country’s “arch-enemy.”

Image: Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un speaks during the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang, on Friday. KNS / via AFP – Getty Images

Days before the end of President Donald Trump’s time in office, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un called the United States his country’s “arch-enemy,” while threatening to expand its nuclear arsenal, state media reported on Saturday.

“Our external political activities must focus on our arch-enemy and the fundamental obstacle to our revolutionary development, the United States,” Kim told the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the state run Korean Central News Agency reported.

“The efforts will focus on overpowering and bringing them to their knees,” he added.

Kim was once courted by Trump, who mused in 2018 that the pair “fell in love” after exchanging letters.

Trump’s comments came after the pair held a historic summit in Singapore to discuss denuclearizing the Korean peninsula in the June of that year. A second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam ended early with the two men unable to reach an agreement.

Any warmth between the leaders appeared to have diminished Saturday as Kim also disclosed a list of high-tech weapons systems under development, although he insisted his country was a “responsible nuclear state,” and would not abuse its weapons unless first threatened.

In an apparent attempt to also apply pressure on the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, Kim said: “Whoever takes office in the U.S., its basic nature and hostile policy will never change.”

Relations between North Korea and the U.S. would depend on “the U.S. withdrawing its hostile policy,” he added.

Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20, has previously called Kim a “thug” and criticized his summits with President Trump. He is unlikely to hold direct meetings with Kim unless the North Korean leader takes significant denuclearization steps first.

Among the sophisticated weapons systems listed as being under development by Kim, were multi-warhead missiles, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and spy satellites which will bolster his country’s ability to attack the U.S. mainland.

The State Department declined to comment.

It’s unclear if the secretive communist state is capable of developing such systems. Information about one of the world’s most cloistered countries is scarce, and estimates on the exact status of its nuclear and missile programs vary widely.

In 2018, the South Korean government said North Korea was estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons.

Kim spoke for nine hours during the ruling Workers’ Party congress, the first in five years, KCNA reported.

The congress is the party’s top decision-making body, and comes amid a series of challenges for the country, including a fragile economy, the coronavirus pandemic and U.S.-led sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Read more

Stars & Stripes – Bringing up the rear: US bases in Japan support UN Command in S. Korea


YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A pale blue United Nations banner flutters alongside the American, Japanese and POW/MIA flags over the home of U.S. Forces Japan in western Tokyo.

That banner is one of the few clues that Yokota, a key U.S. airlift hub in Japan, has also been the headquarters of the United Nations Command-Rear, since 2007.

It’s a subordinate of South Korea-based U.N. Command, led by the head of U.S. Forces Korea, Army Gen. Robert Abrams.

The command’s work in Japan is vital to the defense of South Korea since it would help facilitate reinforcements that would head to the peninsula through Japanese ports in an emergency. It also facilitates the missions of warships and aircraft that monitor North Korea’s efforts to evade U.N. sanctions.

The organization, led by Royal Australian Air Force Group Capt. Adam Williams, 48, of Brisbane, guides the movement of troops, supplies and equipment for nine of 22 nations — Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom and Italy — that have sent forces to South Korea as part of the U.N.’s efforts to defend the Asian democracy from communist North Korea since 1950.

“You can’t fight a major engagement in Korea without access through Japan,” Williams said during a recent interview at his office, which shares a building with the USFJ and the 5th Air Force.

The U.N. command has an agreement with the Japanese government to allow foreign forces to pass through the country to support its work in South Korea, he said. Williams is a former C-17 Globemaster III and DH-C4 Caribou pilot who has flown missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It shouldn’t be normal for a French aircraft to land at a U.S. airbase and everything to work smoothly, but around here it is,” he said.

Roots in Korean conflict

At the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.N. appointed Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then supervising the post-World War II occupation of Japan, to lead the U.N.’s defense against invading North Korean communists. For the duration of the fighting and until 1957 the U.N. command overseeing the Korean campaign was headquartered in Japan.

“By 1957 it was clear that there was not going to be a rapid resolution to the political disputes, and they were going to maintain the command for some time … so the U.N. command moved to Yongsan Garrison in Seoul,” Williams said.

The command relocated last year to Camp Humphreys, south of Seoul.

The U.N. Command — Rear was established in Japan when its higher headquarters moved to Seoul. It was at Camp Zama, home of U.S. Army Japan in Kanagawa prefecture, before moving to Yokota in 2007 to be close to U.S. Forces Japan, Williams said.

The U.N. command has only five personnel working at Yokota, although that could be increased significantly in an emergency, Williams said. The staff includes a Canadian deputy commander, two American soldiers and an American civilian.

That’s far fewer than the command has at Camp Humphreys, where about 90 staff work, he said. Numerous other personnel in South Korea perform missions that range from demining to monitoring the Demilitarized Zone that separates the country from North Korea.

Royal Canadian Air Force Maj. Leon Hachey, 53, of Richards Landing, Ontario, has been at Yokota for two years as deputy commander. A change to Canadian Air Force regulations allowed him to grow a beard that has been getting thicker since 2018.

Working in a multinational environment is nothing new to Hachey, who traveled to Afghanistan in 2007 as a logistics officer.

The U.N. Command — Rear gets some VIP visitors such as South Korean army brass and members of the South Korean National Assembly. But Hollywood stars who have taken an interest in other U.N. missions have yet to stop by, Williams said.

“Outside of a few professionals who work on these agreements that have been around for 65 years, our work is not well-known,” he said.

Sanctions monitors

The U.N. command staff wear their national uniforms, but you won’t see blue berets or helmets, which are reserved for U.N. peacekeepers, he said.

U.S. forces are the U.N. command’s key mission partners in Japan, Williams said.

“We are clearly not out there throwing ropes to the boats and refueling aircraft,” he said of his staff.

A big part of the command’s work in Japan involves facilitating ships and aircraft passing through the country to monitor compliance with sanctions on North Korea that the U.N. imposed due to the North’s nuclear weapons program, Williams said.

“The sending states are committed to monitoring sanctions on North Korea,” he said. “A lot of the ships and aircraft that have visited Japan in recent years have been sanctions monitoring activity.”

The U.N. command’s work in Japan can also involve evacuating foreign forces from bases in the path of typhoons or arranging medical care for inured troops.

For example, a U.S. sailor recently fell down a hatch on a vessel that was near a warship involved in sanctions monitoring, Williams said.

“We had a Canadian ship in the area and brought guy from the U.S. ship to the HMCS Winnipeg, which evacuated him by helicopter to Sasebo,” he said.

Yokota is one of seven U.S. military bases in Japan where the U.N. command has access to logistical support for nations sending troops to South Korea, Williams said.

The other installations are Yokosuka and Sasebo naval bases and Camp Zama on the main islands of Japan as well as Kadena Air Base, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and White Beach Naval Base on Okinawa.
Twitter: @SethRobson1


Read more

Yonhap – N.K. leader vows to boost defense capabilities at party congress

By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has vowed to strengthen his country’s military capabilities to protect its people at a rare party congress, state media said Thursday, amid an impasse in its nuclear negotiations with the United States.

Kim, however, did not use such provocative words as nuclear weapons or war deterrent, which some experts saw as intended to avoid increasing tensions, as he reported to the second-day session of the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party on Wednesday.

He “clarified an important will to reliably protect the security of the country and people and the peaceful environment of the socialist construction by placing the state defense capabilities on a much higher level,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during the second day of the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang on Jan. 6, 2021, in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency the next day. North Korea has launched the rare party congress, the first in nearly five years, amid expectations Pyongyang will unveil its policy directions on the economy and foreign affairs in the face of stalled denuclearization negotiations. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution)(Yonhap)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during the second day of the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang on Jan. 6, 2021, in this photo released by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency the next day. North Korea has launched the rare party congress, the first in nearly five years, amid expectations Pyongyang will unveil its policy directions on the economy and foreign affairs in the face of stalled denuclearization negotiations. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution)(Yonhap)

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, first 3 paras; REARRANGES info on schedule to last 2 paras; ADDS analyst’s comment; CHANGES photo)
By Choi Soo-hyang

North Korea launched the rare party congress, the first in nearly five years, on Tuesday amid expectations Pyongyang will unveil its policy directions on the economy and foreign affairs in the face of stalled denuclearization negotiations.

At the opening session, Kim admitted a failure to meet the country’s previous development goals and emphasized self-reliance in overcoming multitudes of challenges facing his country.

In Wednesday’s report, the North Korean leader analyzed the country’s economic situation in various sectors and presented “the goals and practical ways for making innovations and development in the relevant fields during a new five-year plan.”

The sectors under review included the transportation, construction, communications and commerce industries as well as external economic relations. But there was no mention of the U.S. and South Korea.

This week’s event comes as North Korea has been faced with a triple whammy of the fallout of back-to-back typhoons in the summer, a protracted border closure due to the coronavirus pandemic and global sanctions on its economy.

The session has drawn keen attention from the outside world to gauge the North’s new foreign policy line ahead of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20 as it has stayed mum on Biden’s victory as of now.

During the previous congress, held in 2016 for the first time in more than 30 years, the North announced its five-year development plan that ended last year and declared the “byongjin” policy of simultaneously seeking nuclear weapons and economic advance.

Kim has held three meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump, but denuclearization talks have made little progress since their no-deal summit in Hanoi in 2019.

Experts said the fact that Kim avoided such provocative words as nuclear weapons development and war deterrent at Wednesday’s session can be seen as a message that might bolster the outlook for resumption of negotiations.

“Referring to boosting national defense as a means to build a peaceful environment appears to be quite a mild message that leaves room for negotiations compared with the seventh congress, at which nuclear advancement was put out at the forefront,” Hong Min, a senior researcher at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification, said.

However, he did not rule out the possibility that the nuclear issue could be dealt with in following sessions.

The KCNA said that a third-day session of the congress was to be held on Thursday.

It is still unclear for how many days the congress will be held as the North has not made public the exact schedule. The previous congress was held for four days.

Read more

Yonhap – S. Korea to provide 2 mln face masks to Korean War veterans in 22 countries

SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) — South Korea is providing 2 million face masks to veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War in 22 countries in an expression of gratitude for their sacrifice, the veterans affairs ministry said Wednesday.

Of the total, 1 million masks will go to the United States whose nationals account for 90 percent of the total foreign veterans who took part in the three-year conflict, according to the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.

Their shipments, which began in mid-December, will be completed later this month.

It marks the second major mask provision of masks to the foreign war veterans following another 1 million masks provided to the countries in May.

At that time, 500,000, or half of the total masks, were sent to the U.S.

Around 1.95 million people from 22 countries, including the U.S., Britain, Canada and Turkey, took part in the Korean War. Of them, 37,902 were killed and 103,460 wounded.

The ministry said it will also send 30,000 face masks to 550 independence fighters and their family members living overseas to thank them for their sacrifice to liberate the country from the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule.

In this file photo, taken May 8, 2020, and provided by the veterans affairs ministry, service members load face masks on an aircraft at Gimhae airport in the southeastern city of Busan to send them to foreign veterans who fought during the 1950-53 Korean War. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

In this file photo, taken May 8, 2020, and provided by the veterans affairs ministry, service members load face masks on an aircraft at Gimhae airport in the southeastern city of Busan to send them to foreign veterans who fought during the 1950-53 Korean War. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Read more

Yonhap – N. Korea shows no sign of ‘major provocation’ for now: USFK chief

By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) — North Korea is not showing any signs of preparation to stage a major provocation at least for now, the chief of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Monday.

“I say that we are not seeing any indicators that suggest that there would be a major provocation. But that’s today. That could change next week,” Gen. Robert Abrams said when asked if North Korea may stage a military provocation before or after the Jan. 20 inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.

Many experts believe Pyongyang may stage provocations, partly to draw the new U.S. administration’s attention to the North.

The captured image from the website of the Institute for Corean-American Studies shows Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, speaking in an online symposium held on Jan. 4, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The captured image from the website of the Institute for Corean-American Studies shows Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, speaking in an online symposium held on Jan. 4, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Abrams said he had no way of knowing what would happen in the future but expressed hope the North would continue to keep tensions low as to give diplomacy a chance.

“I would hope, hope not being a method, but I hope that really the current state of detente and this reduction in tensions … I hope that that continues, so that we can maintain that space, ultimately, for some sort of diplomatic outreach,” he told the online meeting.

The USFK commander noted North Korea continues to enhance its asymmetric capabilities particularly in “SOF — Special Operations Forces — cyber and ballistic missiles.”

Still, he said the combined forces of South Korea and the United States stand fully ready and capable to deter any North Korean aggression, despite the COVID-19 pandemic that he said may have undermined the defense posture of many other countries.

“The ongoing pandemic has not dampened our combined defense posture,” said the U.S. general, adding the combined forces have successfully conducted joint military exercises with “zero positive case” of COVID-19.

“It’s got to be capable and the way we develop that capability is through tough, realistic and rigorous training, including live fire training to ensure that our forces are absolutely ready,” he said of the latest joint exercise conducted “last fall.”

The USFK chief noted a “handful” of joint exercises may have been either postponed or canceled over the past three years, partly amid denuclearization talks with the North and the COVID-19 pandemic but insisted they have never been “stopped.”

“Most militaries have not demonstrated the will or the capacity to train during the pandemic. However, not here in Korea because your ROK and U.S. military leaders firmly believe in maintaining that sharp edge, so that we can ensure that our force is ready, credible, and it certainly prevents any potential adversaries from perceiving weakness in our readiness,” Abrams said.

Read more

Reuters – Iran denies seized Korean ship and crew are being held as hostages

SEOUL (Reuters) – Iran denied on Tuesday it was using a South Korean ship and its crew as hostages, a day after it seized the tanker in the Gulf while pressing a demand for Seoul to release $7 billion in funds frozen under U.S. sanctions.

The seizure of the MT Hankuk Chemi and its 20-member crew near the strategic Strait of Hormuz has been seen as an attempt by Tehran to assert its demands, just two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in the United States.

Iran wants Biden to lift sanctions imposed by outgoing President Donald Trump. Tehran’s critics have long accused it of capturing ships and foreign prisoners as a method of gaining leverage in negotiations.

“We’ve become used to such allegations,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference. “But if there is any hostage-taking, it is Korea’s government that is holding $7 billion, which belongs to us, hostage on baseless grounds.”

South Korea summoned the Iranian ambassador, called for the ship to be released and said it was dispatching a delegation to Iran to discuss it. Iran says the ship was held over environmental violations.

Iran’s ability to challenge shipping in the Gulf is one of its main points of leverage in what is expected to be a difficult negotiation when the Biden administration takes office on Jan. 20. In 2019, Iran held a British tanker for two months.

South Korea, like other countries, is required to limit Iran’s access to its financial system under the U.S. sanctions, which were imposed by Trump after he abandoned a nuclear agreement reached with Iran under his predecessor Barack Obama.

Iran says the sanctions are illegal and have hurt its economy, including its ability to respond to the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the Middle East.

Biden aims to revive the nuclear agreement, but any thaw is likely to pose a diplomatic challenge. Since Trump abandoned the deal, Iran has taken steps that violate it; Biden says Iran must be fully compliant before the deal can be restored, while Iran says Washington must first lift the sanctions.

On Monday, Tehran announced it had stepped up uranium enrichment at an underground facility, its latest move in violation of the nuclear deal’s terms.

Reuters Graphic

South Korea’s Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha said on Tuesday she was making diplomatic efforts to secure the release of the tanker and had made contact with her counterpart in Tehran.

Iran’s ambassador in Seoul, Saeed Badamchi Shabestari, asked about the status of the ship’s crew before his meeting at the foreign ministry, told reporters “all of them are safe”.

In addition to a South Korean delegation expected to go to Iran as soon as possible to try to free the ship, South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, Choi Jong-kun, is scheduled to visit Iran on Sunday. Iranian state TV cited a Tehran government official as saying the visit had been scheduled earlier, to discuss the frozen funds.

The ship’s Busan-based operator, Taikun Shipping Co. Ltd., told Reuters there had been nothing to indicate before the vessel was seized that Iranian authorities were probing possible violations of environmental rules.

“If it really was marine pollution, as they say, the coastguard was supposed to approach the ship first,” Taikun’s management director, Lee Chun-hee, said by telephone. “But instead, armed soldiers approached the crew and said they needed to be investigated.”

Last Sunday, the Tehran Times newspaper reported Iran was hoping to negotiate an agreement to use the frozen funds to trade for commodities, including coronavirus vaccine doses.

According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, a foreign ministry official said the Iranian government had tried to secure vaccines through the global COVAX initiative, backed by the World Health Organization. Tehran had been in talks with the ministry and the U.S. Treasury to pay for the doses with South Korean won.

Read more

USNI News – U.S. Forces Korea CO: America Still Conducting Theater-Level Training Exercises

Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea commander, US Forces Korea at Osan Air Base, ROK on June 12, 2020. US Air Force Photo

America’s top general in Korea said Monday that U.S. forces are still conducting theater-level training exercises.

Army Gen. Robert Abrams said American forces “do so without talking about it,” arguing there “is really no need for us to advertise it.”

Speaking at an ICAS event on Monday, Abrams said “we have adjusted in some cases” the exercises’ size and scale and “cancelled or postponed a handful,” but they are continuing.

President Donald Trump, following his 2018 summit meeting with North Korean lead Kim Jong-un, had ordered a pause in the exercises to facilitate diplomatic talks about denuclearizing the peninsula. But as Abrams said, for the past 16 months, the North Koreans “haven’t been answering the phone” on resuming negotiations.

Despite North Korea’s refusal to resume negotiations on the future of the peninsula, Abrams emphasized that the “reduction in tensions [since 2017] is palpable” from the Demilitarized Zone to offshore islands. Pyongyang has so far not resumed testing nuclear weapons, he added. But over the last three years, Abrams noted Kim has built up conventional forces – including special operations; expanded capabilities in cyber and information operations; and the size, range and lethality of its growing ballistic missile arsenal.

Abrams, in response to a question, said the North’s parade of sophisticated missiles and other weapons in a night-time celebration of its 75th anniversary might not be more than show at this point. “We don’t have people on the ground there … to look under the hood” to see if the missiles worked, he said. “We ought to be careful thinking that all of those are fully capable systems.”

He said North Korea maintains the fourth or fifth largest armed force in the world. At some point “quantity is quality,” particularly in a mountainous terrain like Korea’s. “You have to look no further than Afghanistan to see how this is infantry combat.” he said.
“In this terrain, numbers matter.”
During his opening remarks, Abrams said the most recent three-week theater-level training event took place despite the COVID-19 pandemic because the United States has employed an “aggressive reception and quarantine program” for service members coming onto the peninsula. Abrams said that in some respects, “it is more stringent than Korea’s entry requirements.”

So far only five American service members have tested positive for the virus in Korea, he said. This “builds trust and confidence of everyone.”

The pandemic also “has not dampened our defense commitment,” he said.

“For [training] to be credible, we have to have live-fire training,” but “we are sending our air crews [fixed-wing and rotary] to train off the peninsula,” he said. Abrams noted this is also affecting crew qualification schedules. The situation “is not sustainable in the long term,” a warning he also issued last fall.

Overall, “we’ve got all the tools we need” to deter North Korea. He added that he expected to be supported by U.S. 7th Fleet if push came to shove, as well as air units from Japan and partners from the United Nations.

“We have a very large quiver of a lot of different arrows” to defend South Korea, Abrams said.


Read more

KUSAF Newsletter – January 2021

Download Newsletter: KUSAF news-2021 January.pdf


Read more

Stars & Stripes – Worker furloughs at stake as US, South Korea resume military cost-sharing talks

The U.S. and South Korea are neogtiating a plan to forestall possible furloughs for local employees of U.S. Forces Korea. MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By ERICA EARL | STARS AND STRIPESPublished: January 4, 2021

South Korea and the United States are negotiating a plan to share labor costs and avoid once more furloughing local employees of U.S. Forces Korea, a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said Monday.

“South Korea and U.S. defense authorities are currently holding discussions for employment stability of Koreans working for USFK,” said Boo Seung-chan at a Monday ministry briefing.

Seoul and Washington have been at odds over President Donald Trump’s demand that South Korea substantially increase the amount it pays to host a U.S. military presence, a contract called the Special Measures Agreement. The previous agreement expired in December 2018.

In April, the U.S. government placed about 4,500 South Korean base employees, about half its local workforce, on unpaid leave for almost three months when the two countries failed to agree on a plan to divide the costs of their wages.

The decision was a blow to the alliance and its military readiness to fight on the divided peninsula, commanders at USFK told Stars and Stripes in April.

The current negotiations aim to break that deadlock and prevent another furlough, according to a report Monday by the Yonhap News Agency based in Seoul.

In June, South Korea provided $200 million to pay the entire Korean workforce at U.S. bases through the end of 2020.

The U.S. military warned its South Korean base employees in November that they may face another furlough in 2021 if an agreement cannot be reached.

USFK is optimistic about the negotiations over the Special Measures Agreement, said Jacqueline Leeker, a spokeswoman for USFK.

“While USFK is not an official member of SMA negotiations, we are keenly interested in the outcome and remain hopeful for a swift conclusion to the lapsed SMA,” Leeker said in an email to Stars and Stripes Monday.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.
Twitter: @ThisEarlGirl


Read more