WASHINGTON (Reuters) - South Korea’s election of a new president favoring a more conciliatory approach toward North Korea could add volatility to relations with Washington, given his questioning of deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system there, but is not expected to significantly change the alliance, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
The official said it appeared that liberal politician Moon Jae-in would still have to build a coalition despite his decisive win and he may moderate his stance on deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system once he is in office.
“It remains a concern that the left of center, left-wing party in South Korea is going to do well,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But they are going to have to do some coalition building, so I am not sure he’s going be able to have an unadulterated anti-alliance, anti-THAAD stance.”
“It introduces a level of volatility,” the official said. “But I don’t think it’s going to change the alliance significantly.”
Moon decisively won South Korea’s presidential election on Tuesday, ending nearly a decade of conservative rule and bringing a more conciliatory approach toward Pyongyang. The election was closely watched abroad at a time of tension with North Korea, which is believed to be preparing for a nuclear bomb test and has vowed to test an intercontinental missile.
Moon has said the decision to install THAAD in South Korea was made too quickly and the next administration should have the final say on its presence there.
The former South Korean administration and the United States agreed on the THAAD installation last year. The system reached an initial operating capability last week, U.S. officials said, despite strong objections from China, which the Trump administration has tried to court to help rein in North Korea.
The official said it was premature to speculate on the possibility that Moon’s government would ask for the removal of THAAD and noted that campaign positions were often moderated once could be moderated once a new administration conducts a “full appraisal of their security situation.”
Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Alistair Bell