SEOUL, Aug. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has formed a government-civilian body tasked with the long-delayed environmental impact assessment of a U.S. THAAD missile defense unit here, Seoul's defense chief said Monday, clearing a key hurdle to Seoul's push for the unit's "normalization."
During a parliamentary session, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said the consultative body was launched on Aug. 19 to carry out the assessment on the THAAD battery in Seongju, some 300 kilometers south of Seoul.
To help counter North Korea's evolving missile threats, the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration has been pushing for the normalization of the battery currently in a status of "temporary installation" pending the assessment.
The body consists of officials from provincial governments and the environment and defense ministries as well as representatives of local residents and experts in relevant private sectors.
It is to deliberate on the scope and methods of the assessment, draft assessment documents, solicit public opinions through open hearings and carry out other required procedures, according to defense ministry officials.
Lee pointed out "difficulties" related to China's continued opposition to the emplacement of the THAAD system. Beijing argues the THAAD would undermine its strategic security interests.
"The fundamental reason for the THAAD installation is that there are North Korea's nuclear and missile threats," he said. "I believe that there is no need for THAAD to be placed here should (the threats) disappear."
An environmental assessment usually takes one year. But Seoul is largely expected to accelerate related legal procedures to ensure the battery's full-capacity operations.
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