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(3rd LD) Cheong Wa Dae says deployment of THAAD should be suspended for now

All Headlines 17:52 June 07, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with launch of gov't task force on THAAD in last 3 paras)

SEOUL, June 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday the ongoing deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system here should be suspended at least for now, pending a full-blown environmental impact assessment.

"We are not saying the two launchers and other equipment that have already been deployed should be withdrawn. But those that have yet to be deployed will have to wait," a senior Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters.

The remarks followed Cheong Wa Dae's probe over an allegation that the defense ministry may have tried to keep the deployment under a blanket.

The probe concluded a ministry official did in fact keep secret the delivery of four more THAAD launchers to the country, while the defense ministry also sought to make the whole program appear less in size and scale as an apparent attempt to insulate it from an all-out environmental impact evaluation.

Following the conclusion of its probe, the presidential office ordered the defense ministry to conduct a full environmental impact assessment.

The photo, taken on June 7, 2017, shows two THAAD launchers deployed at what used to be a private golf club in Seongju, 300 kilometers south of Seoul, that has been acquired and provided by Seoul's defense ministry for the U.S. missile defense program. (Yonhap)

Wednesday's remarks from the Cheong Wa Dae official came to confirm the deployment is in fact subject to a full evaluation following media reports that it may not be.

The law subjects any new military facility or equipment affecting an area greater than 330,000 square meters to such an evaluation that could take weeks, if not months.

The defense ministry apparently sought to keep the THAAD program away from such an assessment, providing only 320,000 square meters of land for its deployment at first with an additional 380,000 square meters of land set to follow later, Cheong Wa Dae has said.

Some local news outlets have since suggested the THAAD program may require only the small, informal evaluation that it is currently subject to, noting the area actually housing the U.S. missile shield is only 80,000 square meters in size.

"Not only the area actually taken up by THAAD radar and launchers, but the entire area provided (by Seoul) should be considered the area affected by the military program," the Cheong Wa Dae official said.

The earlier reports also noted the defense minister could exempt any new military programs or operations that are deemed urgent from an environmental impact assessment.

The U.S. missile defense system is largely aimed at intercepting North Korean missiles.

The Cheong Wa Dae official insisted the deployment of the THAAD was not considered urgent, as it should not have been, noting the communist North's nuclear capabilities are no longer fresh threats.

"(North Korea's) nuclear tests have been going on for a long time, and so whether we must urgently install (the THAAD) by ignoring our legal procedures is a question," the official said.

So far, two THAAD launchers have been deployed out of the total six that make up a THAAD battery.

The Cheong Wa Dae official said the additional four will have to wait until the end of the study on their environmental impact.

When asked to confirm, the official noted the assessment could take well over a year, saying a similar evaluation for THAAD deployment in Guam had taken 23 months.

The government later said it has launched a task force to look into the various controversies surrounding the deployment. The team is headed by the minister of the Office for Government Policy Coordination (OPC) and includes vice ministers of foreign affairs, national defense and environment.

The team is scheduled to hold its first meeting Thursday and convene once or twice a week.

"We will collect the opinions of the defense, foreign affairs and environment ministries, and brainstorm on ways to resolve the issues related to THAAD, including the environmental impact assessment," an official of the OPC said.

bdk@yna.co.kr
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