July 03, 2017 13:09
President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump during their summit Friday managed to skirt the contentious issue of the deployment of a THAAD anti-missile battery in Korea.
The omission seems to have been the result of strenuous efforts by the government here, which was wary of getting off to a rough start with the notoriously volatile Trump.
The Foreign Ministry stressed to U.S. officials that the alliance must not show any cracks at this sensitive time. A government official said National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong visited Washington early last month and right before the summit to discuss the THAAD issue beforehand so that it did not throw a monkey wrench in the works.
Moon has ordered a procedural review of the deployment, which was rushed through in the dying days of the Park Geun-hye administration. In interviews with the international media, he has tried to dispel concerns, saying the review does not mean he wants to send the battery back. And in meetings with U.S. senators and representatives, Moon offered assurances that he does not intend to backtrack on the agreement.
But the controversy is far from over. Korea experts in Washington point out that Moon never set a date for the THAAD deployment to be completed. At the moment, two launchers are up but another four sit in storage pending an environmental evaluation, and protesters are still blocking the access road.
Moon is in a dilemma. On the one hand, the U.S. wants the deployment to be completed as fast as possible, on the other hand China does not want the THAAD on its doorstep at all, and both countries have been putting heavy pressure on Seoul.
Moon will sit down with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Germany this week. One former high-ranking diplomat said, "If Moon takes an ambiguous stance at that meeting, he could end up being viewed with suspicion by the U.S."
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