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Moon talks to Congress on Thaad

July 01,2017
WASHINGTON - President Moon Jae-in on Thursday tried to answer congressional leaders’ skepticism toward his plan to delay the deployment of an U.S. antimissile system in Korea.

Moon, accompanied by his senior officials, including the foreign minister and the head of the National Security Office, had two meetings with Senate and House leaders on Thursday. He met with House leaders first and then with leaders of the Senate for 45 minutes each.

According to Park Soo-hyun, presidential spokesman, Moon and the U.S. politicians discussed North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear and missile threats and China’s possible role in resolving the crisis. Moon’s position on the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system was also addressed, Park said, along with trade issues.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and floor leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, Kevin McCarthy and Nancy Pelosi, were among the members of Congress who attended the session, as well as Ed Royce, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Moon told House leaders that the possibility of resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis is higher than ever because U.S. President Donald Trump has made it a priority, according to Park. Moon also told the politicians that he believes China can play a greater role in resolving the nuclear crisis and he will discuss it when he meets with the Chinese president in the future.

“Although there is no complete information on China’s role, I believe China has made efforts since the recent U.S.-China summit,” Moon said. “I believe the North is not conducting the sixth nuclear test or intercontinental ballistic missile firing because of Trump’s efforts and China’s role. But the problem is not completely resolved. It was only delayed. I believe China has room to play a bigger role, and I will discuss it when I meet with President Xi Jinping.”

Moon also told House leadership that he sees the Thaad deployment as an agreement based on the Korea-U.S. alliance intended to protect the lives of the Korean people and U.S. Forces Korea. “I have repeatedly promised in public that I do not treat it lightly just because the agreement was made by the previous administration,” Moon said.

Moon, who took office in May, surprised the United States by ordering a full-scale environmental impact study on the deployment in Seongju, North Gyeongsang. The survey will delay the completion of the deployment, possibly by years.

U.S. politicians have voiced concern that Moon’s order was intended to delay and eventually scrap the deployment. A congressman’s remark on Wednesday, shortly after Moon’s arrival in Washington for his first presidential visit, was the latest expression of such doubt.

Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH), a senior member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said during the committee meeting on Wednesday that he sees Moon’s order as a big mistake. He also criticized Moon as having put U.S. troops in Korea at risk. Chabot also demanded that Korea choose between Thaad and the withdrawal of U.S. Forces Korea.

During his meeting with the House leadership, Moon defended his decision.

“Korea, just like the United States, is a democratic country and its democratic procedural legitimacy is crucial,” Moon said. “Demand for democracy is particularly high because of the candlelight revolution [that prompted the removal of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye], and demand for democratic procedural legitimacy for the Thaad deployment is, therefore, high.”

He also asked the United States not to worry about the. “I am telling you to abandon doubt that I and my administration will reverse the Thaad deployment,” Moon said, stressing that the antimissile system was necessary because of the North’s missile and nuclear threats and the key is resolving the security crisis.

In his meeting with House leaders, Moon also said it is premature to resume the suspended inter-Korean projects, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tour. Moon is an advocate of engagement with the North, and speculation has been high that he will implement a softer approach toward Pyongyang, despite its continuing provocations.

“We cannot easily resume the projects right now,” he said. “We can only discuss the resumption after we start a serious dialogue to dismantle the North’s nuclear programs and that, of course, needs a close consultation with the United States within the framework of international cooperation.”

According to Moon’s spokesman, Park, Moon also made similar remarks during his meeting with Senate leaders. The president emphasized the importance of the Korea-U.S. alliance in maintaining peace on the peninsula and Northeast Asia, and expressed his intention to further bolster the alliance.

Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, attended the meeting, as did John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]