South Korean officials say THAAD launchers currently in deployment are to stay operational during an environmental impact assessment that was omitted in April. Photo by Yonhap News Agency/UPI
June 7 (UPI) -- South Korea is to conduct an expanded environmental impact assessment on a former golf course where the U.S. missile defense system THAAD is being deployed.
The move is expected to delay the deployment of four additional launchers in the country, but two launchers in place near the central South Korean city of Seongju, and the powerful X-band radar that accompanies the system, are to stay operational, South Korean news service News 1 reported.
A presidential Blue House official in Seoul told reporters the full assessment could take at least a year, while a second official told News 1 decisions are to be finalized after the appointment of a new defense minister.
Current Defense Minister Han Min-koo is an appointee of former President Park Geun-hye, a rival of President Moon Jae-in.
A "small-scale environmental impact assessment" began on Nov. 20 and plans for a more comprehensive assessment in abidance with local laws were scrapped when THAAD was deployed overnight in April.
The sudden move drew protesters to the site, and China, a wary neighbor, condemned the deployment.
According to Yonhap, one South Korean official with the president's office said THAAD deployment is "not so urgent that an environmental impact assessment can be omitted."
China, South Korea's largest trading partner, has shown no signs of easing existing sanctions.
South Korean conglomerate Lotte's chain of supermarkets in China has remained closed for three months, but according to South Korean newspaper Asia Business, Beijing has not added new sanctions that would make it difficult for South Korean businesses in a market where Korean products remain in high demand.
Seoul is also disputing press reports that claim the Moon administration was leaving out THAAD as a topic of discussion in an upcoming summit between Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump, Herald Business reported.