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Moon will mull Thaad decision

Washington ‘respects’ need for deliberation, says H.R. McMaster
May 19,2017
South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration will stick to its vow to internally discuss procedural problems surrounding the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system, and has begun the process of trying to convince the United States that the step is needed, multiple sources from the Blue House said Thursday.

Hong Seok-hyun, Moon’s special envoy to the United States, said Wednesday in Washington that he told U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster about the situation in a 40 minute meeting with him at the White House.

“I told him there was controversy in our country on procedural issues about deploying Thaad,” Hong told reporters, “and that the matter needed to be discussed in our parliament.” McMaster replied that the United States “acknowledged” the situation in South Korea and “respected” it, according to Hong.

The special envoy said he told McMaster that he looked forward to “solving” the problem.

In what appeared to be a strategic move during election season, President Moon took a rather ambiguous stance on Thaad’s deployment here, not quite rejecting the missile shield yet expressing regret over its delivery process.

The installment of Thaad’s key component in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, late last month, carried out by U.S. Forces Korea in the dead of night, “ignored public opinion and due process,” Moon said during a TV presidential debate. Moon vowed to review the process in the National Assembly, but has not specified his plan yet.

It’s “premature” to say whether South Korea would entirely review the deployment, a senior Blue House official said Thursday. “The public agreed to President Moon’s stance that due process is needed, and that’s why they elected him, so he’s sticking to it.”

The Moon administration, said the source, was at the time trying to convince Washington to “gain procedural legitimacy” in internally re-discussing the deployment of the missile shield.

A “long time” was needed for the National Assembly to decide what this due process would look like, the official added.

Another Blue House official said the administration has not decided yet whether Moon will bring up the controversy during his bilateral summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in late June, or have someone do it on his behalf.

Hong, Moon’s special envoy to the United States, who met with McMaster on Wednesday, also talked with Trump but said Thaad was not on their agenda.

Regardless of the scheduled summit, the second source said the administration was in “no hurry” to decide how Thaad will be discussed in parliament.

Moon’s apparent reluctance might be a result of South Korea’s psychological warfare with China, which sees Thaad as a threat to its own military operations.

“China and the U.S. are like opposite sides of a coin,” said a third Blue House official. “We’re not at the stage yet to say this or that about Thaad.”

On the issue of paying for Thaad, Hong said it was not brought up during his meeting with McMaster. Trump said last month he wanted South Korea to pay the $1 billion cost of Thaad’s deployment in Seongju County, sparking waves of panic here.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense scrambled to announce there was no way Seoul was paying, citing a bilateral agreement that the U.S. would cover the bill. President Moon echoed the statement. McMaster later reconfirmed the two countries’ original agreement but said the deal was in place “until any renegotiation,” hinting that a second deal could be proposed.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, CHAE BYUNG-GUN AND HEO JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]