June 29, 2017 13:02
President Moon Jae-in flew to Washington on Wednesday to meet with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump. The issue of a procedural review delaying the full deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery here threatens to overshadow other issues, even though it has been left off the official agenda. The White House and Senate have reacted sensitively to Cheong Wa Dae's decision to postpone the deployment of additional THAAD batteries, and 18 senators from both sides of the aisle sent a letter to Trump just days left before the summit, urging him to speed up the deployment.
The U.S. is paying for the deployment to protect the lives of American soldiers and their families as well as vital equipment here. But an added benefit is that most of South Korea falls within the protective range of the THAAD. It does not take a genius to guess how Americans feel as they watch Seoul stall the full deployment, apparently because it is wary of opposition from China. Political think tanks in Washington rarely agree on anything, but they seem to be united when it comes to THAAD. There are issues involving the U.S. and China that South Korea needs to approach strategically, but the deployment, whose sole purpose is to defend against North Korean missile attacks, is not one of them.
Moon needs to resolve the THAAD controversy during his visit to Washington. China cannot offer him anything that can compare to the value of the Korea-U.S. alliance in defending South Korea against the belligerent North. One way to defuse the tension might be to tell U.S. officials exactly when the review will end and when the THAAD batteries can be fully deployed.
Trump is being briefed daily on the latest developments in North Korea, which shows how much he cares about the threat. On Wednesday, the Trump administration labeled the North Korean nuclear and missile programs the greatest threat not only to Northeast Asia, but to the Pacific regions as well. This could provide an ideal opportunity to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff, because it finally has Washington's full attention.
To turn the present crisis into an opportunity, Korea and the U.S. must move completely in synch. While refusing to cave into any pressure from Pyongyang, they must agree to terms that can lead to a resumption in dialogue with the isolated state. Cheong Wa Dae has said it is willing to resume dialogue with North Korea even if it just freezes its nuclear weapons and missile programs without pledging to scrap them. This clearly differs from Washington's approach, which wants the North to start dismantling them before talks can take place. As long as such differences exist, the matter will remain in limbo.
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