South Korean National Assembly Speaker Chung Se-kyun on Tuesday said the country's opposition parties are "not fundamentally opposed" to the deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system to the country.
Chung made the remark during a meeting with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) after Ryan said THAAD's deployment is important for the sake of the solid alliance between the two countries, National Assembly spokesman Kim Young-soo said.
"Opposition parties are pointing out the way the government unilaterally made a decision (on THAAD) without seeking understanding of the National Assembly or the people. They are not fundamentally opposed to this. This is my understanding," Chung was quoted as telling Ryan.
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan smiles during a meeting with South Korean National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, Saenuri Party floor leader Chung Jin-suk, Minjoo Party floor leader Woo Sang-ho and People's Party floor leader Park Jie-won in Washington on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Ryan's office)
Also in attendance were the floor leaders of the ruling Saenuri Party, the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea and the People's Party -- Chung Jin-suk, Woo Sang-ho and Park Jie-won, respectively. The three floor leaders have been accompanying Chung on the trip to the U.S. in a rare show of parliamentary unity.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system has emerged as one of the hottest political issues in South Korea after the government announced a joint decision with the U.S. in July to place the system to cope better with the growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.
Critics of the decision claim the system is not effective in defending against North Korean missiles and its deployment would sour the countries' relations with China and Russia at a time when their cooperation is necessary to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
During the meeting with Ryan, Chung said that South Korea's ruling and opposition parties are in agreement that strengthening the alliance with the U.S. is the basis of South Korea's security and that U.N. sanctions on North Korea are necessary, according the spokesman.
On the issue of North Korea, Chung also told Ryan that in the wake of Pyongyang's fifth nuclear test, some South Koreans have raised calls for the country's own nuclear armament while others have called for greater efforts to restart dialogue with the North.
Ryan said in response that the U.S. is greatly concerned about the North's nuclear test. He also called for effective sanctions on the North and greater diplomatic efforts to draw Chinese cooperation in reining in Pyongyang, according to the spokesman.
The two sides also exchanged views on the free trade agreement between the two countries. Chung said the trade deal has been beneficial to both countries, and Ryan stressed the importance of carrying out the pact completely.
After the meeting, Ryan issued a statement, saying, "Strong U.S.-Korea economic and defense ties are critical to the safety and prosperity of both nations, as well as broader stability in the peninsula. I appreciated the opportunity to reaffirm our alliance with the delegation this afternoon."
Later, Chung held a lunch meeting with a group of House lawmakers, including Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the committee's Democratic leader, as well as Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), a Korean War veteran.
"Be sure no matter who's elected, as has happened in the past, we all treasure our friendship and our alliance with South Korea. That is a friendship and alliance that cuts across the political board. We all understand how important it is," Engel said at the meeting.
Royce said that the Korea-U.S. alliance has never been stronger.
The chairman also pledged to make efforts to increase pressure on North Korea.
"We are going to work internationally to try to make certain that other countries in the region and around the world comply with a new UN sanctions so as to cut off the funding that otherwise could go for further expansion of these expensive nuclear programs in North Korea," he said.
Later in the day, the three floor leaders -- Chung Jin-suk, Woo Sang-ho and Park Jie-won -- said at a meeting with South Korean correspondents that U.S. congressional leaders have all assured that the Korea-U.S. alliance will remain strong whoever is elected the next U.S. president.
"U.S. congressional leaders told us clearly that what is being said ahead of the election is for campaign purposes," Chung of the ruling Saenuri Party said. "They said former President (Jimmy) Carter sought to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea but was ultimately blocked by Congress."
Woo of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea also said that U.S. congressional leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties "promised with one voice" that there will no change in the Korea-U.S. alliance regardless of the election results.
Park of the People's Party said he told U.S. lawmakers that despite differences in views on contentious issues, South Korea's ruling and opposition parties support the alliance and friendship with the U.S. (Yonhap)