US President Donald Trump speaks at the Department of Veteran Affairs in Washington DC on Apr. 27. (UPI/Yonhap News)
US President Donald Trump said South Korea would have to pay US$1 billion in expenses for the THAAD missile defense system deployment, a position he said he had informed the South Korean government of.
The demand is expected to trigger some controversy, with the US’s calls for Seoul to pay a hefty price tag on the THAAD deployment coming on the heels of a surprise delivery of components to make the deployment a fait accompli before a new South Korean administration takes office next month.
Trump also blasted the South Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) as a “horrible” deal and declared it should be either renegotiated or terminated. With this, the Trump administration is lobbing two grenades at the alliance simultaneously - demanding Seoul pay up on THAAD and renegotiating or terminating the KORUS FTA - in a move that focuses on US interests while ignoring the economic retribution South Korea is suffering from China over THAAD.
In an Apr. 27 interview with Reuters at the White House ahead of his 100th day in office on Apr. 29, Trump said he had “informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid [for THAAD].”
“Nobody’s going to do that [deploy a THAAD system for free],” he added.
“[THAAD] protects [South Koreans], and I want to protect them. We’re going to protect them,” Trump continued. “But they should pay for that.”
“It’s a billion-dollar system. It’s phenomenal,” he added of THAAD, noting that it “shoots missiles right out of the sky.”
The remarks were the first by Trump to directly mention the cost of the THAAD deployment.
As news of the remarks stirred up controversy, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said on Apr. 28 that South Korea and the US had struck a deal in an agreement signed last July by a THAAD deployment Joint Working Group in which Seoul would provide the land and infrastructure while the US would shoulder deployment and management costs for the system. If the ministry’s account is correct, it would mean Trump plans to disregard an agreement officially announced by the two sides.
The purchase cost of a single THAAD set is around 1 trillion won (US$879 million), which is roughly similar to the amount quoted by Trump. This means Trump could have effectively been trying to force South Korea to purchase THAAD outright.
“It looks to be the same thing as telling South Korea to pay the purchase cost,” a former senior South Korean government official said.
From the beginning, critics have argued that the THAAD deployment would be more or less ineffective in defending against North Korean missiles, and that its introduction was pursued as a way of bringing South Korean into the US-led missile defense system as part of Washington’s strategy to contain China. And with South Korea providing only the site while US Forces Korea operates the actual system, paying the full cost of THAAD would open Seoul up to charges of “weapons peddling” and being taken for a free ride.
Responding to Trump’s claims that he had “informed” Seoul of the demand for THAAD-related costs, a South Korean government official closely acquainted with affairs in the Blue House, Office of the Prime Minister, and Ministry of Foreign affairs said Seoul “was never informed of related facts by the US.”
“There has been no change in the terms of the agreement between South Korea and the US,” the official said, referring to the content of their written agreement. The denials are expected to stir up a debate over whether Trump or another US administration figure did inform South Korea - and, if so, who it was.
Trump also described the KORUS FTA as “unacceptable” and “a horrible deal made by [then-Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton].”
“We're going to renegotiate that deal, or terminate it,” he added.
When asked when he would announce the renegotiation or termination, Trump replied, “Very soon. I’m announcing it now.”
By Yi Yong-in, Washington correspondent and Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter
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