The announcement came ahead of a presidential election next week in South Korea that has been troubled by tension over the North’s nuclear weapons program and confusion about President Trump’s approach toward the Korean Peninsula. On Monday, Mr. Trump declared that he would meet North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, under the right circumstances.
Mr. Trump caused alarm in South Korea on Thursday when he told Reuters that he wanted the South Korean government to pay for the Thaad system, whose cost he estimated at $1 billion. South Korea has repeatedly told its people that the Americans agreed to pay for the system and its operation and maintenance, with South Korea providing land and support infrastructure.
On Sunday, the White House national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, called his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin. Mr. Kim’s office later said that the two had “reconfirmed what has already been agreed” about the system’s costs.
But the confusion was far from over.
General McMaster later told Fox News that the United States would stick to its word “until any renegotiation.”
“The last thing I would ever do is contradict the president of the United States,” he told Fox News. “What the president has asked us to do is to look across all of our alliances and to have appropriate burden-sharing, responsibility-sharing. We’re looking at that with our great ally South Korea; we’re looking at that with NATO.”
Such comments led many South Koreans to suspect that the Trump administration might try to renegotiate the Thaad deal or demand that South Korea increase its annual contribution, estimated at $820 million last year, to help pay for maintaining American troops in the country.
On Tuesday, South Korea’s main opposition party, the Democrats, called the government’s decision to accept the Thaad deployment “a total failure of diplomacy.”
The party’s presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading polls by a large margin ahead of the election next Tuesday to choose the successor of the recently ousted President Park Geun-hye. Ms. Park agreed to the Thaad deployment before she was impeached for corruption in December. She was formally removed from office in March.
“At first, they said we needed to provide the land only. Now, while our country was in the middle of an election campaign, they sneaked the Thaad in, and then demanded that we pay the cost, too,” Mr. Moon said Monday during a campaign speech. “Does this make sense?”
He has called for an immediate suspension of the Thaad deployment. Mr. Moon, a liberal, had already pledged to review South Korea’s decision to accept the system if elected. He said South Korea was already paying a heavy price for the Thaad deployment, referring to a boycott of South Korean brands among angry Chinese.
On Tuesday, China restated its vehement opposition to the antimissile system and warned there would be consequences.
“We’re opposed to the United States’ deploying the Thaad antimissile system in South Korea, and we urge all sides involved to immediately halt deployment,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing. “As well, we’re determined to take the necessary measures to defend our own interests.”
Mr. Geng did not specify what those measures might be.
The Thaad battery became operational as tension soared on the Korean Peninsula after a series of missile tests by the North and warnings from the Trump administration that military action was not off the table in dealing with the North.
Two B-1B American strategic bombers were deployed over the Korean Peninsula on Monday for a joint drill with South Korea’s air force, the South’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday. North Korea condemned it as a “reckless” act that was pushing the peninsula “closer to the brink of nuclear war,” but Seoul said the exercise was meant to help deter North Korean provocations.
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