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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry advocated for the necessity of all possible deterrence against North Korean missile threats, and that may include deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system. He made the comment to emphasize the need for full preparedness against all possibilities from North Korea during a stop at the U.S. Army headquarters in Yongsan in Seoul before he wrapped up a two-day stay in Korea. Kerry said the U.S. and international community must be prepared for “every eventual outcome” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un engaged in extraordinarily provocative activities including building nuclear weapons. “This is why we need to deploy ships, forces … and we are talking about Thaad.” It is the first time the U.S. Secretary of State publicly spoke about a Thaad deployment in Korea.

The Korean foreign ministry quickly tried to reel back in Kerry’s remark. It said Kerry only mentioned Thaad in a general context to stress the need for comprehensive readiness against North Korea. The U.S. embassy in Seoul also tried to downplay his comment, which was made during talks with colonels. It said Thaad had not been discussed during Kerry’s visit or in previous official talks between Seoul and Washington. It is bizarre for the foreign ministry and U.S. embassy to go through such trouble to explain a comment by a U.S. minister in charge of foreign affairs. Kerry is insensitive if he was not aware of the ramifications of his comment. Or possibly he knew all too well.

The positioning of a costly U.S.-led anti-ballistic missile system on the Korean Peninsula has been an unofficial hot potato for Korea because China and Russia vehemently oppose the idea. Whenever the U.S. government and military officials speak on the matter, Seoul quickly shoots down the possibility. The issue seemed to have fizzled out when Defense Secretary Ashton Carter officially denied any discussions were underway during a visit to Seoul in April. It could be reignited by Kerry’s remarks.

Kerry said the two countries’ alliance is as tight as ever and cannot allow “daylight, not an inch, not a centimeter, not a microscope of difference” to come between them in their joint front against North Korea’s threats. All the confusion about Thaad suggests plenty of daylight between them. Washington must be frank about its Thaad plans in Korea, such as whether it will finance it. Seoul has maintained strategic ambiguity on the matter. It must be firmer on the issue. It must decide whether it needs U.S. missile protection or not, and clearly say so.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 20, Page 30

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