Gov’t seems to further delay Thaad deployment

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Gov’t seems to further delay Thaad deployment

The Korean government said Friday it would expand the so-called environmental impact assessment of an antimissile system in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, which will delay initial deployment plans by 10 to 15 months - and ultimately decide whether or not to deploy the battery on domestic soil based on the result.

The announcement, made by the Ministry of National Defense, created a tsunami of confusion because President Moon Jae-in has stressed he wouldn’t reverse the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, which was originally supposed to be fully deployed by the end of the year.

In June, Moon ordered the Defense Ministry to conduct a “proper” environmental study on the Thaad site in order to persuade the people in the area that proper procedures were followed.

A ministry official who spoke on background scrambled to quell speculation that Seoul was considering scrapping the Thaad agreement signed between Washington last year, telling local reporters Thursday that “nothing has changed with the alliance” and that the government would not undo the battery’s deployment.

The source continued that Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-wha conveyed the same message to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a telephone conversation that lasted for half an hour Thursday night. Defense Minister Song Young-moo was said to have held a similar conversation on Wednesday when he met Marc Knapper, acting U.S. ambassador.

Moon’s Blue House has been at odds with the Defense Ministry over the environmental impact assessment ever since the left-leaning president was elected in May in a snap election, replacing Park Geun-hye, who signed the Thaad agreement with the United States last year.

The ministry began what was called a summary environmental impact study last December and wrapped it up earlier this year, submitting the final results to the Ministry of Environment on Monday.

Those results covered 330,000 square meters (81.5 acres) of the 700,000 square meter Thaad site.

The broader environmental impact study announced Friday includes a study of the entire 700,000 square meters, and also a public hearing to gather opinions from the local community, which is against the deployment.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO AND YOO JEE-HYE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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