US confirms it will pay for Thaad deployment, says South Korea

An advanced US missile defense system, dubbed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), is deployed in a golf course in the country's southeastern county of Seongju, South Korea, on April 27, 2017.
An advanced US missile defense system, dubbed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), is deployed in a golf course in the country's southeastern county of Seongju, South Korea, on April 27, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL • South Korea said the US has reaffirmed that it would shoulder the cost of deploying the Thaad anti-missile system, days after US President Donald Trump said Seoul should pay for the US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) battery designed as a defence against North Korea.

In a telephone call yesterday, US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster reassured his South Korean counterpart, Mr Kim Kwan Jin, that the US alliance with South Korea was its top priority in the Asia-Pacific region, the South's presidential office said.

Seoul will provide only land for the system, reported the Yonhap news agency.

The conversation followed another North Korean missile test-launch last Saturday that Washington and Seoul said was unsuccessful, but which drew widespread international condemnation.

Mr Trump, asked about his message to North Korea after the latest missile test, told reporters, "You'll soon find out", but did not elaborate on what the US response would be.

His comments in an interview with Reuters last Thursday that he wanted Seoul to pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) deployment perplexed South Koreans and raised questions about his commitment to the two countries' alliance.

South Korean officials responded that the cost was for Washington to bear, under the bilateral agreement.

"National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster explained that the recent statements by President Trump were made in a general context, in line with the US public expectations on defence cost burden-sharing with allies," South Korea's Blue House said in a statement. Mr McMaster requested the call.

Major elements of the advanced Thaad system were moved to the planned site in Seonjgu, in the south of the country, last week.

The deployment has drawn protests from China, which says the powerful radar - which can penetrate its territory - will undermine regional security, and from local residents worried that they will be a target for North Korean missiles.

About 300 residents held a rally yesterday as two US Army lorries tried to enter the Thaad deployment site.

South Korea and the United States say the sole purpose of the Thaad system is to guard against North Korean missiles.

The North has been conducting missile and nuclear weapons related activities at an unprecedented rate, and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

It yesterday threatened to sink the nuclear-powered submarine, USS Michigan, which has been deployed to the region.

The US and South Korea yesterday wrapped up their two-month joint military drills, called Foal Eagle, US and South Korean officials said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'US confirms it will pay for Thaad deployment, says South Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe