Korea and the United States are expected to discuss the thorny issue of THAAD deployment next month, government officials said, Wednesday.
The two sides are scheduled to hold a high-level defense meeting, or the Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD), in mid-April in Washington, D.C. and the issue of whether to deploy the U.S. missile shield is likely to be on the table.
“The THAAD issue will be discussed either as an informal or formal item in the meeting,” said an official in Seoul.
“After all, it has been one of the most urgent and critical security issues not only between Seoul and Washington but also in terms of their relations with China.”
The talks will be led by Yoo Jeh-seung, chief of the Office of Planning and Coordination at the defense ministry, and David Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.
THAAD stands for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is mulling whether to ask for permission to deploy the missile defense system on Korean soil to deter growing threats from North Korea.
Last June, USFK Commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti recommended THAAD deployment for South Korea and admitted last week that a site inspection for THAAD deployment had been conducted.
“We have not formally consulted with South Korea on THAAD deployment, and no decisions have been made on a potential deployment to the Korean Peninsula,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday.
The defense meeting comes as top U.S. government officials are scheduled to visit Korea in the near future.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans to come here later this month, followed by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry next month, raising speculation that the two sides are highly likely to discuss the issue.
However, the defense ministry said THAAD is not on the agenda for the April meeting, although the two sides are in discussions as to what will be.
In response to the possible deployment, China is pressing Seoul to block the U.S. move, alleging that it could be used to nullify China’s military strike capabilities.
On Monday, Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Liu Jianchao asked the Korean government not to allow deployment of the advanced missile interceptor.
“It would be appreciated if Korea takes China’s interest and concerns over THAAD into deep consideration,” he said.
Despite responding positively to the proposed THAAD deployment by the USFK, the government has made it clear that it is not poised to share the financial burden for deployment, let alone purchase it.