Moon says missile defense probe not aimed to reverse deployment

SEOUL-- President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday South Korea's ongoing probe of the delivery of a U.S. missile defense system is not intended to reverse the deployment agreement between the two countries but to conduct it with appropriate domestic procedures, according to the presidential office.

Moon ordered a probe on Tuesday into the "undisclosed" delivery of four additional launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system after the defense ministry failed to report it to the presidential policy advisory panel in a recent briefing.

The presidential office plans to question Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Kim Kwan-jin, former chief of South Korea's National Security Office, over what the presidential office said was an intentional omission.

During a meeting with visiting U.S. Senate Democratic whip Dick Durbin, Moon said South Korea will continue to host the THAAD under the correct domestic procedures.

"Procedures over THAAD are entirely domestic ones; we do not intend to change the existing decision or send a different message to the U.S.," Moon told Durbin at the presidential office, according to presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun.

Seoul and Washington deployed the THAAD battery in a southeastern county amid heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

The decision was made last year by then South Korean President Park Geun-hye, though there was no public consensus on the key security issue that pits South Korea against its largest trading partner, China.

China has repeatedly expressed opposition against the U.S. anti-missile system out of concern that the deployment could hurt its security interests.

Still, Seoul and Washington have dismissed such concerns, saying the U.S. missile shield is defensive in nature and is meant to only counter North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats.

China had imposed restrictions on South Korean imports and banned its citizens' group tours to South Korea as apparent economic retaliations.

Moon also told Durbin that he did not think lightly of the bilateral deal, though it was made by the previous South Korean government.

Park is now in jail and standing trial over a string of corruption allegations that removed her from office.

Still, Moon called for an environmental impact assessment over the U.S. missile shield, saying democratic and procedural justifications are strongly warranted.

Separately, Moon called for strong sanctions and pressure to ensure North Korea will come back to the negotiating table over its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea is already under the toughest U.N. sanctions ever over its five nuclear tests and its long-range rocket launches.

China appears to be playing a role in deterring North Korea from carrying out a nuclear test, Moon said.

China is North Korea's most important trading partner and a key source of food and fuel, giving Beijing significant leverage over Pyongyang.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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