President hits ceiling over 4 Thaad launchers

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President hits ceiling over 4 Thaad launchers

President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday ordered a thorough investigation into the Defense Ministry’s failure to brief his transition team about the U.S. military’s placement of additional launchers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system.

“The president was briefed that four launchers, in addition to the two already installed in Seongju, were clandestinely brought in and stored in Korea,” Yoon Young-chan, senior secretary for public relations, said Tuesday. “Today, Moon ordered his senior secretary for civil affairs and chief of the national security office to conduct a thorough investigation over how the four additional launchers were brought in.”

“It is extremely shocking,” Moon was quoted by Yoon as telling Chung Eui-yong, chief of the national security office, after he received the briefing.

According to a source, Moon was briefed by Chung Monday.

The U.S. Forces Korea began installing key components of the Thaad battery on a former golf course in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang on April 26, 2017 - less than two weeks before the May 9 presidential election. Despite protests by Beijing and Moscow, Seoul and Washington agreed on the deployment in July last year, during the presidency of Park Geun-hye. The rushed deployment of the antimissile system took place while the country was under the leadership of an acting president after Park was impeached and removed from office in March.

A Thaad battery typically consists of six truck-mounted launchers, 48 interceptors (eight per launcher), a fire control and communications unit, and powerful AN/TPY-2, or X-band, radar. The deployment in April included the radar system and two missile launchers and interceptors used with them.

According to Yoon, Moon telephoned National Defense Minister Han Min-koo and confirmed that four more launchers were already brought into Korea. The ministry did not brief the Presidential Advisory Commission on State Affairs Planning, which acts as a transition team, about the four launchers when it gave a briefing last Thursday, Yoon said.

“Moon asked his aides to investigate why the four additional launchers were brought in, who made the decision, why it was not made public and why the new administration was not told about it,” Yoon said. “He also ordered that the investigation must look into the suspicion that the four launchers were kept secret in order to avoid an environmental impact assessment.”

The Presidential Advisory Commission on State Affairs Planning also said the ministry omitted those details during Thursday’s briefing. Park Kwang-on, a spokesman for the commission, said the ministry only reported that two launchers arrived in Korea on March 6, 2017, and some components were installed at the site on April 26.

After Moon’s order was made public, the Defense Ministry said it briefed Chung about the four additional launchers in a separate face-to-face briefing on Friday. The Blue House quickly rejected that claim.

“The ministry gave briefings to Chung and his two deputies on Friday,” a senior presidential aide said. “I checked with them and none of them was informed about [the four launchers].”

The investigation signals Moon’s intention to scrutinize the entire decision-making and implementation process of his predecessor to allow the rushed deployment of the Thaad system. During the presidential campaign, Moon demanded the deployment be delayed for the next administration to make a decision on it.

It was already reported by media in April that the four additional launchers were brought in Korea. YTN aired an exclusive report on April 25, showing four launchers heading from Busan to Daegu.

“There was speculation and there was also a media report,” the presidential aide said. “But nothing was confirmed officially.”

“This is an important issue, but it was not reported to anyone in the new administration although it’s been 20 days since the president took office,” he said. “We are not supposed to catch an issue that the ministry does not inform us about. The ministry should have briefed us about this important issue.”

The investigation was ordered ahead of Moon’s trip to the United States next month for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. It remains to be seen if the issue will be discussed at the summit.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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