By Jun Ji-hye
An agreement between the U.S. and China on a draft U.N. resolution for sanctions against North Korea is expected to affect talks between Seoul and Washington on the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here, officials and analysts said Thursday.
Depending on the Washington-Beijing deal, South Korea and the U.S. may delay indefinitely — or cancel — their THAAD talks, although their militaries are eager to start them as soon as possible, they said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Washington, "We have made it very clear that we are not hungry or anxious to deploy THAAD," and that, "If we can get to denuclearization, there is no need to deploy THAAD."
Wang also said that "important progress" was made on a new U.N. resolution targeting the North's nuclear weapons program during his talks with Kerry, and that an agreement on the resolution would be possible "in the near future."
Their remarks suggest that the two powers apparently made a "big deal" in Washington — Beijing is believed to have demanded that Washington withdraw its plan to deploy the THAAD on the Korean Peninsula in return for its cooperation on producing a U.N. resolution containing stronger and more effective sanctions against Pyongyang.
Kerry's remark is seen as leaving open the possibility for the U.S. to reverse its decision to deploy THAAD on the peninsula in an effort to encourage China to play a greater role in reining in the repressive state, given that Beijing is one of five veto-holding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), and the main provider of food and fuel aid to the impoverished North.
China has long been opposed to the deployment of a THAAD battery on the peninsula, out of concerns that its radar could be used to spy on Beijing's military activities. The country is also apparently concerned that the deployment would expand American influence within Northeast Asia.
Militaries of the U.S. and South Korea have said that the THAAD is necessary on the peninsula to better deter threats from the North, and their working-level talks on deployment of the system are set to begin at the earliest possible date.
But the allies abruptly delayed the signing of a terms of reference for the Joint Working Group (JWG) on the THAAD deployment just hours before a ceremony, Tuesday, when Wang visited the United States for talks with Kerry.
The JWG was supposed to hold its first meeting to discuss details of the deployment including possible locations after the signing.
At the time, the Ministry of National Defense said the signing would be put off by one or two days, but at the time of writing, the ministry has still failed to clarify if this would take place.
The government is still sticking to the necessity of THAAD deployment despite concerns over worsening relations with China, Seoul's No. 1 trading partner. It stressed that whether to host a THAAD battery is a sovereign right of South Korea, and the issue is not linked with Beijing's participation in the U.N. sanctions.
"The signing is being delayed as communication between the U.S. government and the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is still ongoing," deputy ministry spokesman Col. Na Seng-yong said at a regular briefing, Thursday. "The JWG will start its operations soon, once the terms of reference are signed."
For his part, the USFK Commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti told the House Armed Services Committee, Wednesday, that the allies are expected to hold the first meeting of the JWG "within a week."
He also noted that it will take some time to deploy the THAAD system to South Korea because the working group has to determine the right location and other details.
"THAAD is a complex system. It's going to take some time for us to find the right location because where you locate it makes a difference on how effective it is," he said.
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국방부 '약정 체결 연기, 한미동맹 배려 차원서 봐야'
고고도 미사일방어체계(사드)의 주한미군 배치를 논의할 한미 공동실무단의 운영을 위한 '약정' 체결이 다음 주로 넘어갈 전망이다.
정부의 한 소식통은 25일 '한미 공동실무단 약정 체결이 이번 주는 물리적으로 불가능할 것'이라며 '다음 주로 넘어갈 것'이라고 밝혔다.
한미는 애초 지난 23일 약정을 체결키로 했으나 미측의 요청으로 연기됐다. 당시 국방부는 1~2일가량 지연될 것이라고 설명했으나 결과적으로 더 지연됐다.
이와 관련, 나승룡 국방부 부대변인은 이날 정례브핑에서 '지금 주한미군사령부가 미국 국방부 역할을 이임 받아서 우리 국방부와 약정 체결을 준비하고 있다'면서 '일부 의사 진행 간에 지연이 있는 것 같다'고 밝혔다.
나 부대변인은 '미국이 약정 체결을 일방적으로 연기한 것 아니냐'는 지적에 대해서는 '어떤 일들을 처리해 가면서 동맹이라는 것이 서로에 대한 신의, 신뢰, 또 어떤 면에서는 배려 같은 차원에서 업무를 진행한다고 보는 것이 합리적이라는 생각'이라고 말했다.
한미동맹 차원에서 미국 측의 연기 입장을 배려했다는 설명이다.
그는 '주한미군사령부가 최종적으로 미국 정부와 내부 논의를 끝내야 할 것 같고, 그것을 토대로 우리와 관련 약정을 체결하는 절차를 거쳐야 될 것'이라고 설명했다.
한편 커티스 스캐퍼로티 주한미군사령관은 24일(현지시간) 미 하원 군사위원회 청문회에 출석해 사드의 배치 문제와 '양국의 공동실무단이 앞으로 1주일 내에 첫 회의를 할 것'이라고 말했다.
스캐퍼로티 사령관은 사드 배치에 대한 구체적인 일정표를 묻는 말에는 '그 (사드배치) 절차가 잘 진행될 것이라고 확신한다'면서 '현 시점에서는 일정표가 어떻게 되는지 말하기 어렵지만 비교적 이른 시간에 그렇게(제시) 할 수 있을 것'이라고 답변했다. (연합뉴스)