South Korea clears another obstacle for THAAD deployment
By KIM GAMEL AND YOO KYONG CHANG | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 27, 2017
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s Lotte Group has approved a land-swap deal with the defense ministry, clearing another hurdle to the deployment of an advanced U.S. anti-missile battery as early as this summer to counter a growing threat from the North.
The defense ministry had reached a tentative agreement in November to exchange military land near Seoul for its hilltop golf course, in a southeastern area that was selected as the home for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system.
But the deal stalled over concern about Chinese economic retaliation as Beijing objects to stationing THAAD in the region out of fears its powerful radar could be used to spy on the Chinese military. The U.S. and South Korea insist the battery will be aimed only at North Korea.
South Korea’s defense ministry said it has now received word that a contract could be signed as early as Tuesday.
Once finalized, the South Koreans will hand over the golf course to the U.S. military, which will then be able to install THAAD.
“To avoid delays in the installation, the ministry will carry out the process of handing over Lotte’s golf course to the U.S. military for THAAD operation and designing the site for a THAAD unit at the same time,” a ministry official told the Yonhap news agency.
Washington and Seoul agreed on the deployment last July after Pyongyang conducted its fourth underground nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch that sparked the current crisis.
Officials expressed increasing urgency about deploying THAAD as North Korea carried out a fifth nuclear test in September and test-fired several other ballistic missiles, including one on Feb. 12.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year’s speech that development of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which could reach the U.S. mainland, was in the “final stages.”