March 07, 2016 11:57
South Korea and the U.S. on Friday officially launched a joint working group to discuss the deployment of Terminal High Attitude Area Defense batteries on the Korean Peninsula, the Defense Ministry here said.
The talks start almost a month after Seoul and Washington announced them in the wake of North Korea's rocket launch on Feb. 7.
The ministry in a statement said Seoul and Washington only plan to discuss "the possibility of deploying" the THAAD batteries. When asked if the word "possibility" meant that they could decide against it, a senior official said, "We need to find the right spot. We can't talk about the future with 100-percent certainty."
On Feb. 25, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry Harris said the start of discussions does not signify the matter is settled.
Shortly after the announcement of formal talks on Feb. 7, U.S. and South Korean military officials made comments that sounded like the deployment was certain, but they have since backpedaled in the face of opposition from China.
The U.S. realized in negotiations over North Korea sanctions that it can use the THAAD deployment not just as a deterrent against North Korean provocations but also as leverage in diplomatic maneuvering with China.
Park Won-gon at Handong Global University said, "The U.S. decided to compile a list of countries by August that could potentially conduct financial dealings with North Korea to isolate Pyongyang, and that date will mark the first major hurdle for the THAAD deployment. If China plays an active part in international sanctions against North Korea and the North shows signs of change, support for the deployment here could weaken."
Domestic opinion is already turning against the deployment. Ahead of the April general election, candidates in regions that have been mentioned as possible deployment sites have joined a chorus of opponents, saying their radar system emits harmful electromagnetic radiation.
Another hurdle could be the cost-sharing ratio between Seoul and Washington, and the current government here could decide to lump the next administration with the issue.
But the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee has approved a resolution urging the deployment of THAAD batteries in South Korea, which ups the pressure on both governments.
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