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Defusing the Thaad conflict

June 12,2017
Washington officials and lawmakers are raising their voices after the new South Korean government has put the brakes on the installment of the Terminal High Altitude Area (Thaad), which was hurriedly brought in and partially installed before the election of the new president, citing the need for further environmental assessment, which possibly could last up to two years.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who should have been distressed by the high-profile Senate hearing of former FBI director James Comey, who accused Trump of lying and attempting to coerce him to stop a federal investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election, called upon Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to discuss the Thaad situation. The two secretaries had a working breakfast before joining Trump at the Oval Office to discuss the “ongoing situation on the Korean Peninsula,” said Heather Nauert, spokeswoman of the State Department detailing the meeting in a press conference.

“We are aware, certainly, of the situation and the suspension of additional launchers, and we would continue to say that Thaad was an alliance decision at the time and continue to work closely with Korea throughout the process,” she said. By reminding the public that the decision was made out of an “alliance,” Washington could be implying that trust between allies could be damaged if Seoul overturns its policy upon a change in administration.

A Democratic senator who has been to Seoul and met with the Korean president last week was blunter. “It’s my fear that he thinks — I hope I’m wrong — that [Moon] thinks that South Korea has a better chance working with China to contain North Korea than working with the United States,” Senator Dick Durbin said to the Washington Examiner. “I said to him (Moon) if I were living in South Korea, I would want missile defense, and I don’t understand why you don’t.”

He told Moon during his meeting that Washington could use the $923 million (the cost for the Thaad deployment) elsewhere if Seoul does not want the missile shield. The cacophony between Seoul and Washington could jeopardize their alliance and send the wrong message to Beijing and Pyongyang. The new administration must work to persuade Washington that the alliance remains strong and to resolve any misunderstandings between the two allies.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 10, Page 26