U.S. will pay for Thaad, special envoy assured

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U.S. will pay for Thaad, special envoy assured

Hong Seok-hyun, President Moon Jae-in’s special envoy to the United States, told reporters that Sen. John McCain confirmed in a meeting that Washington is paying for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system in Korea.

“Sen. McCain was very clear about this,’” Hong told reporters at Washington Dulles International Airport on Saturday before he boarded a plane home. “He said, ‘We are paying for Thaad.’ He also mentioned how important the U.S.-Korea alliance is to both countries.”

Hong’s statement came a day after his meeting with McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

Washington and Seoul agreed to deploy the Thaad antimissile system in Korea last July to defend against threats from North Korea. Washington agreed to shoulder the cost of the deployment, but U.S. President Donald Trump said last month he wanted South Korea to pay the $1 billion cost.

The deployment has been protested by China and Russia, who say the defense system’s powerful radar will be used to spy on them and undermine their security.

“We have to solve this Thaad issue by persuading China and at the same time by making sure that China does not lose face over this matter,” Hong added. “South Korea and the United States need to work closely together and cooperate with China, to build a way for China to cooperate with us.”

Hong affirmed that the meeting was “very helpful for the upcoming bilateral summit.”

“For the two countries to keep cooperating closely, they need to hash out the details of their policies and plans. So we [envoys] are playing a part here,” Hong said. “I am returning home with lots of information needed for further bilateral cooperation down the road.”

Trump invited Moon to Washington at the earliest possible time in their first phone call earlier this month.

Over his four days in Washington, the special envoy to the United States also met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster to discuss Thaad and bilateral cooperation against military threats from North Korea.

Hong quoted Tillerson as saying the U.S. government wants North Korea to trust that it is not seeking regime change or planning to invade, adding there was no reason for the United States to be hostile to North Korea if it denuclearizes.

Hong also said he told McMaster that the Thaad deployment may need to be discussed by Korea’s National Assembly for “controversies concerning procedural issues on deploying Thaad,” though a Blue House official said it is premature to say that the Korean government would review the deployment in its entirety.

Hong and Moon Chung-in, an honorary professor at Yonsei University, were named special advisors for diplomatic and security issues by President Moon on Sunday.

“In appointing the two, whose skills and expertise have already been acknowledged by the international community, I hope that some deadlocked diplomatic and security issues will begin to be solved,” Moon said. “The two advisors will be discussing with me the new administration’s keynote policies in unification, diplomacy and security and placing them into action.”

Moon’s special envoy to Japan, Democratic Party Rep. Moon Hee-sang, returned from his trip on Saturday.

“The two countries agreed to cooperate on the controversy over the bilateral settlement of the [so-called] comfort women issue,” Rep. Moon told reporters upon his return to Gimpo Airport, using the euphemism for Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during World War II. “I got a feeling that cooperation may work out well.”

The Seoul-Tokyo agreement in 2015 to resolve the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery consisted of the Japanese prime minister’s apology and a 1 billion yen ($8.99 million) fund for the victims. It has been scorned by some of the victims as well as civic activists who wanted Tokyo to take clear legal responsibility for the human rights abuses.

“I conveyed the message of the Korean people who cannot accept the settlement, and received an answer [from my counterparts in Japan] that assured us of some understanding on their part,” Rep. Moon said.

The president’s envoy to China, former Prime Minister and seven-term DP lawmaker Lee Hae-chan, also returned from his trip on Sunday. Rep. Song Young-gil of the DP, who is former mayor of Incheon, will leave for Moscow today to deliver Moon’s message. Moon will be briefed on the three envoys’ trips in the coming week, according to the Blue House.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, newly appointed as Moon’s special envoy to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, left for the Philippines on Sunday. He will be visiting the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, to meet with the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte today, Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Tuesday and Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang on Thursday.

BY CHAE BYUNG-GUN, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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