A deepening partisan divide over the deployment of the controversial U.S. THAAD missile defense system is becoming a key national security issue in South Korea’s emerging presidential race.
In the wake of North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, the United States indicated in September it would accelerate the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, known as THAAD, which uses interceptor missiles to destroy ballistic missiles.
As late as December, the South Korean Ministry of Defense said it was planning to have the THAAD battery in place and operational by May, at the agreed upon site, a Lotte conglomerate-owned golf course in the rural southeastern part of the country.
But on Monday, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said there is a possibility the THAAD battery deployment could be delayed due to scheduling difficulties.
“There is a procedure, that the board of directors of Lotte holds a meeting to approve the final cost estimation, but that meeting has not yet been held, and we expect the meeting to be arranged soon,” he said.
The possible delay may just be a bureaucratic impasse, but it comes at a time when THAAD has become an intensely political issue in South Korea.