A top foreign policy adviser to South Korean presidential frontrunner Moon Jae-in said on Friday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s suggestion that Seoul pay for the THAAD advanced U.S. missile defense system would be an “impossible option”.
He wants South Korea to pay for the $1 billion Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, Trump told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
“Even if we purchase THAAD, its main operation would be in the hands of the United States,” said Kim Ki-jung, a foreign policy adviser to Moon and professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University.
“So purchasing it would be an impossible option. That was our topic when we were considering the options,” Kim said.
To replace impeached former President Park Geun-hye, whose government agreed last year to deploy THAAD, Moon is leading polls by a wide margin ahead of a May 9 election.
campaign officials were deliberating Trump’s demand that South Korea pay for THAAD and were aware of the reported comments by Trump, said Lee Ji-soo, a spokesman for Moon. However, there was no official comment from Moon’s camp yet, the spokesperson added.
Accusations of not paying enough for the U.S. defense umbrella was made against Saudi Arabia, another ally of the U.S., by Trump in the interview as he prepared to mark 100 days in office on Saturday.
They betrayed a lack of strategic thinking and Trump’s comments harked back to his populist campaign rhetoric and Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.
“Trump’s remarks reflect his persistent desire for allies to pay more for their defense,” she said. “As far as their impact on South Korea’s election, they will likely boost support for Moon, and if he wins, it will make it harder for the U.S. to sustain a hardline policy against North Korea. So Trump’s remarks don’t seem very strategic to me.”
Some consternation among Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress was provoked by Trump’s comments.
After South Korea took a great deal of convincing and then suffered economic retaliation from China during years of discussions, the THAAD deployment was possible, Congressional aides noted.
“It just seems completely tone deaf … That system isn’t just good for South Korea, it’s also good for us,” one aide said, adding that it would also defend U.S. troops in South Korea and deter North Korea from targeting U.S. territory.
Despite strong opposition from China, which says the system’s radar can be used to spy into its territory, the U.S. military started THAAD deployment in early March. a North Korean warning of retaliation has also been prompted by the deployment.
Major elements of the system would be fully operational by the end of this year and were moved into the planned site in Seonjgu in the south of the country, said South Korea on Wednesday.
A Pentagon spokesman told reporters on Friday that system will have initial operational capability “very soon”.
The top U.S. commander in the Pacific, Admiral Harry Harris, said the system would be operational “in coming days” and the Pentagon has called THAAD a “critical measure” to defend South Koreans and U.S. forces.
(Adapted from Reuters)