Talks on Thaad are needed: U.S.

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Talks on Thaad are needed: U.S.

U.S. government officials told a group of South Korean lawmakers that Washington is prepared to hold talks with Seoul on the placement of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system on the Korean Peninsula.

A bipartisan group of Korean lawmakers met with U.S. Pentagon officials and discussed the Thaad issue, which is being followed closely not only in Seoul but in neighboring countries. They were on a visit to Washington on the invitation of the Korea Economic Institute.

Ruling Saenuri lawmaker Rep. Kim Han-pyo said Washington conveyed that “there has not been enough talk [on the placement of Thaad on the Korean Peninsula] and that there is a need for more active discussion from now on.”

Washington officials also conveyed to the Korean lawmakers that they did not understand why Beijing was so opposed to the Thaad system.

The U.S. anti-ballistic missile system is designed to shoot down missiles closer to their point of origin than current defenses can. China, Russia and North Korea have vocally opposed deployment of the advanced missile defense system in Korea.

China has said it worries that its radar system, which can cover more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), could be used as a method of surveillance against it. Analysts say China also doesn’t want a more powerfully equipped ally of the United States as its neighbor.

Russia says it fears that it may trigger an arms race in the Northeast Asian region.

Officially, Korea and the U.S. have not discussed Thaad and no request has come from Washington.

When Korean and U.S. officials do sit down to official discuss the issue, there is special concern in Seoul about who would pay for the missile system if it was brought here and maintain it. The system costs up to 2 trillion won ($1.78 billion).

Local newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported Friday that the United States has been requesting Seoul through unofficial channels that it pay for the system and its management should it be deployed here. The paper cited a diplomatic source.

“The biggest obstacle in Korea-U.S. relations is the issue of the allocation of cost-sharing in regards to the deployment of the Thaad in U.S. Forces Korea,” the source was quoted as saying.

“The U.S., through many unofficial channels, has requested sharing costs, and Korea is in the situation of showing opposition.”

The government remains concerned that placement of the Thaad battery, with the excuse of countering North Korea’s missile and nuclear threat, could lead to an increase in Korea’s share of the defense budget for maintaining U.S. troops in Korea.

Although both sides maintain there have been no official talks on the issue, the United States Forces Korea earlier this month admitted it has conducted site surveys in South Korea to determine where to deploy the advanced missile defense system. Possible sites included the U.S. base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi.

Issues such as the Thaad deployment are expected to be raised at the trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Japan and Korea in Seoul on Saturday, alongside another hot topic, Korea’s participation in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and other regional and historical issues.

President Park Geun-hye plans to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida ahead of the trilateral meeting, according to the Blue House Friday.

On Thursday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, outgoing chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, will visit Korea for three days to hold talks with the Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) chairman, Adm. Choi Yun-hee, and Defense Minister Han Min-koo.

“The chairmen are expected to deal with a wide range of pending issues, including how to deal with North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats,” said a JCS official, among other bilateral security issues.

The Thaad deployment is also expected to be raised in a two-day Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue scheduled in Washington in mid-April, which will include Korean Deputy Defense Minister Yoo Jeh-seung and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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