(ATTN: CHANGES headline; ADDS Seoul ministry official's comment in 10th para)
By Oh Seok-min
WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's possible funding of the construction of a U.S. base on Korean soil for the THAAD missile defense system has been "addressed," a U.S budget proposal has shown, which could run counter to the allies' agreement on the issue.
According to the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal of the Department of the Army dated Feb. 3, 2020, the U.S. earmarked US$49 million for the development of the South's Seongju area, where its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery is installed.
It is the first time that the U.S. government has set aside a budget for the site. U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) set up a full six-launcher THAAD battery in the southern provincial town of Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, as part of efforts to better cope with growing missile threats from North Korea.
Of the total, around $36 million was earmarked for primary facilities, including three earth-covered magazines, site security and lighting, while supporting infrastructure such as electricity and sewers will cost $6.85 million, according to the proposal.
Noting that the installation requires such infrastructure to support its personnel, equipment and operational mission, the report read, "The possibility of Host Nation funding has been addressed."
It then added, "Funds from Host Nations programs are available to support this requirement."
The proposal comes as the allies have been in tough negotiations over the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), which stipulates Seoul's share of the cost for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong USFK.
Some have raised suspicions that the U.S. might aim to include the base construction in the deal and thus have Seoul partly pay for it, though Washington is supposed to cover the cost for THAAD base construction in South Korea in accordance with the allies' related agreement in 2017. The U.S. has called for a hefty increase in Seoul's payments in this year's SMA talks.
South Korean officials, however, said that the Seongju base construction issue has not been on the table in the SMA talks.
"Any details regarding the base construction could be discussed after wrapping up the ongoing environmental survey of the site," a ministry official said, adding that Seoul is supposed to provide the site and the burdens for building facilities fall on the U.S.
South Korea has yet to conduct a full-scale environmental survey of the Seonju site, and residents there have strongly protested the deployment.
China has also adamantly objected to the system's presence on the Korean Peninsula, claiming that it hurts its security interests.
As an integral part of the U.S.-led missile-defense system, THAAD is designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles at a higher altitude in their terminal phase using a hit-to-kill method.