Foreign minister says U.S. will respect agreement on missile defense cost

Du Ri Jang, May 1, 2017, 9:19 a.m.

South Korea's top diplomat Monday expressed confidence that the United States will respect a bilateral agreement on the cost for the missile defense deployment amid controversy sparked by U.S. President Donald Trump's recent suggestion that Seoul should pay for the US$1 billion system.

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se dismissed concerns that Washington would seek a renegotiation on the issue as he commented on Trump's security adviser Gen. H. R. McMaster's remark that his government respects the current deal on THAAD until "any renegotiation." "I think (the focus of his interview) was placed on keeping (the terms of) the deal reached between the two countries," Yun told reporters, referring McMaster's interview with Fox News.

In July, South Korea agreed with the U.S. to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery on its soil to defend against North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threats. The U.S. has started to install key components of the missile defense system at a site offered by South Korea.

Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the U.S. is required to pay for the costs related to the operation and maintenance of its weapons here, with South Korea shouldering costs linked to necessary facilities and land.

The controversy was sparked after Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Friday (Korean time) that he wants Seoul to pay for THAAD, estimated at US$1 billion.

South Korea's National Security Office Chief Kim Kwan-jin held phone talks with his U.S. counterpart McMaster the following day and reaffirmed their initial agreement on THAAD, the presidential office of Chong Wa Dae said.

"(We) have explained how and in what process the THAAD issue has been discussed and agreed upon and made clear our stance on the matter," Yun said, speaking about his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in New York after Trump's remark was reported.

"After closely listening, Tillerson said that he knows the sensitivity of this issue well and will let the relevant agencies share and review (what was discussed)," he added.

With regard to the Trump administration's approach to the North, Yun said that it is placing focus mostly on sanctions and pressure, adding that Seoul and Washington share the view that time is not right for resuming talks with the North.

In a recent interview, Tillerson said that dialogue would be a way to solve the North Korea problem, but emphasized that the U.S. goal is its denuclearization. The remark was seen as a marked change from his earlier hard-line rhetoric.

"He has repeatedly said that dialogue (under the Trump administration) will not be the same as those pursued before," Yun said. "Basically, (the U.S.) is thinking about genuine talks on denuclearization."

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