S. Korea: no renegotiation on THAAD cost

SEOUL-- South Korea on Monday ruled out renegotiation of the cost for the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system, called THAAD, responding to pressure from the Donald Trump administration to share the financial burden.

"I don't think it's an issue for renegotiation," Moon Sang-gyun, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said at a press briefing.

Who should foot the bill for the THAAD equipment being set up in South Korea has emerged as a hot alliance topic since U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview last week he wants Seoul to pay for it, estimated at US$1 billion.

The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) has installed key components of the new weapon at a former golf course in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, under a controversial 2016 agreement with South Korea. They said the positioning of THAAD on the peninsula is a must to help thwart North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions.

South Korea agreed to provide land for the site and the U.S. said it would be in charge of funding the installation and maintenance.

The deal was reached in accordance with the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement which calls for the USFK to pay for the operation of its own weapons in the country, according to Moon. The document of last year's accord is classified, he added.

The ministry's firm stance on the THAAD cost issue came after U.S. National Security Adviser Gen. H. R. McMaster told Fox News that his government respects the deal in place but only until before "any renegotiation."

He pointed out that Trump, a former tycoon, is seeking to "have appropriate burden sharing, responsibility sharing" with South Korea and other American allies.

He did not specify whether renegotiation in his word heralds a push for talking again with Seoul on last year's agreement of THAAD cost.

The ministry official made it clear that it would be impossible to revise the contract without revising the SOFA on the legal rights and other details of American troops here and their presence.

Concern has grown, however, among Koreans that the THAAD deployment will eventually raise their financial burden.

The allies plan to start separate negotiations next year on sharing the financial burden for stationing the USFK.

The current five-year contract, which calls for Seoul to pay 920 billion won ($809 million) each year, is to expire in 2018.

With regard to South Korea's financial support, Moon said, the government will negotiate with the U.S. for an appropriate amount through a comprehensive review of various elements including security situations, the USFK's contribution, Seoul's financial ability and the stable conditions for the presence of U.S. service members.

Meanwhile, angry residents in Seongju, some 290 kilometers southeast of Seoul. continued protests against THAAD in their town known for melon farming.

More than 150 residents staged a sit-in, blocking the entry of police buses into the THAAD zone.

They believe police have been mobilized to facilitate the passage of fuel trucks of the USFK and other equipment.

Those local residents are worried about damages to their livelihoods and potential direct attacks from North Korea on their neighborhoods.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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