South Korea suspends any further deployment of a controversial US missile system to the country until an environmental impact assessment ordered by President Moon Jae-in is completed.
The president’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that Moon had called for the suspension of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to the country.
The office also said that the environmental impact assessment could take a year to complete.
“We do not view the deployment process as urgent enough to bypass the whole environmental impact assessment,” said a senior office at the presidential office whose name was not mentioned in reports.
The “additional deployment (of the THAAD) should be carried out only after the environmental impact assessment is over,” the official added.
The official said, however, that Seoul saw “no need to withdraw” the two launchers that have already been deployed.
South Korea decided to host the missile system last year under ousted president Park Geun-hye to deter perceived threats from North Korea. The first pieces of the missile system started arriving at the Osan Air Base in South Korea in March with the approval of Seoul’s then-caretaker administration.
The new president ordered a “proper” investigation into the potential environmental impact of the missile system on Monday.
A battery of the THAAD is capable of firing up to 48 interceptor missiles and consists of six truck-mounted launchers, fire control and communication equipment as well as a powerful X-band radar.
The president had also ordered an investigation into an unauthorized deployment of four more launchers that have arrived recently in the South and are currently being stored at a US army base in the country. According to Moon’s office, top military officials had deliberately withheld information from the president. Moon removed Deputy Minister for Defense Policy Wee Seung Ho on Monday over the matter.
The Defense Ministry cited a confidentiality deal with the US military as the reason to withhold the information from South Korea’s new commander-in-chief, who seems not to be in agreement with Washington over the deployment. But it was not clear why the country’s highest authority could be kept in the dark by lower-ranking officials based on a deal with a foreign country.
The US opposes North Korea’s missile and military nuclear activities, which Pyongyang says act as deterrence against a potential invasion by its adversaries.
China, which has long opposed the deployment of the missile system so close to its borders, has called on Washington and Seoul to remove the system. But China is also concerned by the North Korean nuclear activities and has banned imports of North Korean coal over the issue. But it has repeatedly promoted dialog to resolve the issue and urged all sides to exercise restraint.