U.S. admits to surveying for Thaad battery sites

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U.S. admits to surveying for Thaad battery sites

The U.S. military admitted Thursday it has conducted site surveys in South Korea to deploy an advanced missile defense system, but no final decision was made.

The United States Forces Korea issued a statement in the afternoon to address the intensifying controversy surrounding the possible deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery, better known Thaad, which the Blue House claimed on Wednesday had never even been discussed between the two nations.

“We are aware of the recent reports regarding a possible Thaad unit being permanently stationed in the Republic of Korea,” the U.S. Forces Korea said. “There are possible site locations in Korea for this system and while informal studies have been conducted to find suitable sites in the event of a possible future deployment, no decisions have been made either to deploy a system or determine where such a system might go.”

The statement did not elaborate on when and where the site surveys had taken place.

The Munhwa Ilbo reported Thursday that the surveys took place last year at five places. It said strong candidates included the U.S. base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, Wonju in Gangwon and Gijang County in Busan. The Korean 1st Army headquarters is located in Wonju and a nuclear power plant is located in Gijang.

The U.S. military also said it had not talked to Korea formally about the deployment, adding that no host nation notification procedures have taken place.

“If the U.S. government were to station a Thaad unit in the Republic of Korea, it would do so in full consultation with the government of the Republic of Korea,” it said.

After admitting to the site surveys but denying any consultations, the U.S. military tried to promote the deployment to the Korean public.

“A Thaad unit would provide benefits to the defense of the Republic of Korea against the North Korean missile threat by augmenting the Korean Air and Missile Defense system and U.S. Patriot systems in Korea,” it said.

The possible deployment of a Thaad battery in Korea has put Seoul in a predicament because both Beijing and Moscow are against the use of the anti-ballistic missile defense system. China and Russia worry that its radar system, which can cover 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), could be used as a method of surveillance against them.

While the conservative ruling Saenuri Party pushes the Park government to accept the deployment, the Blue House said earlier this week that the United States wasn’t pressuring Korea. “There was no request, no consultation and no decision,” Min Kyung-wook, presidential spokesman, said Wednesday.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo also said Seoul is keeping its “strategic ambiguity” because the matter is too sensitive.

The controversy surrounding a Thaad deployment started last year after Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, recommended it for Korea.

A top U.S. defense policy maker later fueled the controversy by saying that the United States was conducting site studies in Korea.

“We are considering very carefully whether or not to put a Thaad in South Korea,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said at a forum organized by the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington last September. “We’re doing site surveys. We’re working with the government of South Korea now to determine if that is the right thing to do.”

That contradicted the government’s line and made the public skeptical.

The United States has already sent one Thaad battery to Guam in response to North Korean provocations, Work added.

Last month, another U.S. government official, Lt. Col. Jeff Pool, a Pentagon press officer, admitted that officials in Washington and Seoul often talked informally about Thaad, although there had never been an official discussion.

“It would be untruthful to say we haven’t informally discussed [it] because we already had a site survey in the ROK and Gen. Scaparrotti said he wanted it,” Pool told Korean correspondents in Washington.

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

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