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The full deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system will be halted pending an environmental impact assessment by the South Korean government, the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office said on Wednesday afternoon.
The decision comes amid a developing controversy in South Korea over an alleged Ministry of National Defense (MND) decision not to inform the President about the arrival of the additional four missile launchers.
THAAD “can be deployed after finishing the environmental impact assessment,” Yoon Young-chan, Senior Secretary to the President for Public Relations, was quoted as saying by local media.
The two already-deployed missile launchers will remain in place, the Blue House said.
“There is no reason for already deployed (the THAAD) system to be withdrawn due to the environmental assessment,” Yoon added.
One unnamed Blue House official told local outlet Money Today that the government wasn’t sure how long the assessment might take, saying that the THAAD environmental assessment in Guam, a U.S. territory, had taken 23 months.
While South Korea has said that THAAD is now ready to be used to intercept North Korean rockets, the system requires six rocket launchers to be fully operational.
But the Blue House said last week that the Ministry of National Defense (MND) had not reported the delivery of the four rocket launchers into the South to a presidential advisory commission on planning state affairs on May 25 – the day the ministry was due to deliver a briefing to the new government on issues pertaining to national defense.
The decision was described as “very shocking” by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who said that the four additional THAAD launchers were brought into the South “behind closed doors.”
The Blue House has since accused the MND of intentionally not reporting the arrival of the four additional missile launchers to avoid an environmental assessment of the THAAD launch site in order speed up the deployment of the system.
The deployment of the controversial missile defense system, which the Chinese government has expressed strong opposition to, was agreed last year by the U.S. and South Korea and is set to cost $1 billion – a payment the United States had said it will cover.
JH Ahn, Oliver Hotham, and Dagyum Ji contributed to this report