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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on June 3)

All Headlines 08:08 June 03, 2017

Politicizing THAAD
Row over missile defense system could hurt bilateral ties

Cheong Wa Dae conducted an investigation into Defense Minister Han Min-koo and former National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin this week over the domestic procedures for the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here.

The probe was prompted by a Ministry of National Defense report to Chung Eui-yong, who replaced Kim, May 21, which failed to detail the arrival of four additional THAAD launchers.

The ministry briefed Moon's de facto transition team May 25 and gave a separate briefing to the National Security Office. On both occasions, the ministry did not mention that four additional launchers, in addition to the two that have already been installed in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, had been brought to Korea. President Moon ordered an investigation after learning of the omission of the additional launchers in the ministry's report, and Han and Kim were questioned by the presidential office Wednesday.

The ministry deserves to be blamed for withholding an accurate report to the new President's national security team on THAAD. But Cheong Wa Dae is blowing the issue out of proportion by calling the omission "intentional" and ordering an investigation into former President Park Geun-hye's top security officials.

During the election, Moon maintained that the deployment lacked due process such as deliberations at the National Assembly and has called for a proper environmental impact report. But as President, Moon needs to show that Korea is on the same page with the U.S. on THAAD, which will be a key bilateral issue during the upcoming Korea-U.S. summit.

It is untimely to make an issue out of THAAD ahead of the first meeting between him and U.S. President Donald Trump later this month. The latest THAAD row instigated by Cheong Wa Dae's probe into the "undisclosed" delivery of additional launchers could lead to more misinterpretations by Washington about Korea's view on the missile defense system. Already, Washington's displeasure can be detected from remarks by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, an assistant Democratic leader and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee for Defense.

After a meeting with Moon this week, Durbin reiterated the transparency of the THAAD deployment process during a media interview, apparently aiming to refute suspicions held by some Koreans that THAAD was "smuggled" here without due process. He also questioned whether Korea truly wants THAAD or not, saying "If South Korea does not want the THAAD missile system, it is $923 million that we can spend in some other place."

Moon assured Durbin that the probe was not intended to reverse the THAAD agreement between Seoul and Washington. If the agreement is irreversible, it is unwise for Moon to highlight procedural problems, which will only end up offending the U.S. and undermining bilateral relations. Therefore, the investigation should be concluded as swiftly and discreetly as possible to safeguard the national interest. Parties should also refrain from extending a political row over the THAAD deployment by pushing to conduct hearings and investigations into the previous administration's actions on it.

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