SEOUL, South Korea — The Trump administration has reaffirmed that the United States will pay for a missile defense battery it is deploying in South Korea, despite President Trump’s recent statement that he wanted Seoul to cover the cost, officials here said Sunday.
Mr. Trump caused alarm here on Thursday when he told Reuters that he wanted South Korea to pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as Thaad, which is being installed as a defense against North Korean missiles. According to South Korea, the two allies had agreed that the Americans would pay for the system and its operation and maintenance, with Seoul providing land and supporting infrastructure.
On Sunday, the White House national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, called his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, and “the two reconfirmed what has already been agreed” about the system’s costs, Mr. Kim’s office said in a statement.
General McMaster “explained that the recent statements by President Trump were made in a general context in line with the U.S. public expectations on burden-sharing with allies,” Mr. Kim’s office said.
The Thaad system had been a contentious issue in South Korea well before Mr. Trump’s remarks. China, the country’s main trading partner, has objected strongly to the system, which it sees as a threat to its own security, and its state-run news outlets have published threats of economic retaliation against South Korea.
Since Mr. Trump’s remark, all of the major candidates in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election had accused him of violating the Thaad agreement. One minor candidate, Sim Sang-jung, went so far as to say that the United States should “pack its Thaad and take it out of South Korea.”
The candidate leading in the polls, Moon Jae-in, called for an immediate suspension of the Thaad deployment. Mr. Moon, a liberal, had already pledged to review South Korea’s decision to accept the system if elected. He said Park Geun-hye, the conservative president who was ousted in March over a corruption scandal, should have sought Parliament’s approval before agreeing to the deployment.
The United States military began installing the radar and other key components of Thaad in Seongju, 135 miles southeast of Seoul, the capital, last week. South Korean and American officials have said that the system will be operational soon.
Mr. Trump’s remarks added to unease here about the new American president, who as a candidate accused the country of not contributing enough to the costs of its own defense. Though most South Koreans value the country’s military alliance with the United States as a bulwark against North Korea’s escalating missile and nuclear threats, many were miffed by Mr. Trump’s accusations.
South Korea already contributes nearly $810 million a year toward the cost of maintaining the U.S. military presence here, in addition to providing land and infrastructure. The country is also one of the biggest buyers of American weapons.