South Korea's Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn on Thursday dismissed growing speculation about differences between Seoul and Washington over the cost for a U.S missile defense system deployed in the nation.
His remarks came amid a controversy over U.S. President Donald Trump's claim in a recent interview that he had informed the South that it would be "appropriate" if Seoul paid for deploying a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery worth US$1 billion.
"(The two countries') joint working group made a concrete agreement (over the cost) while discussing the issue for several months. ... There is no problem as to who will shoulder the cost," Hwang said during a luncheon with local reporters.
"The U.S., of course, is aware of this.... There are no differences between South Korea and the U.S., and (the Seoul government) will do its best for the deployment of the weapon that does not pose any burden to our citizens," he added.
Seoul has argued that under the bilateral arrangement, Washington is financially responsible for the installation, operation and maintenance of the THAAD unit with Seoul providing the land to host it.
"Basically, the cost is to be shouldered by the country that operates the weapons system, which means if the U.S. uses it, then the U.S. is to pay for it," the acting president said.
Hwang also dismissed the idea of renegotiating the bilateral deal over the deployment cost.
"What kind of renegotiation will there be even when the deployment hasn't been completed yet?" he asked.
Key THAAD components, including a powerful radar system, have been delivered to the deployment site in Seongju, 296 kilometers south of Seoul. A Seoul official said earlier this week that THAAD now has "initial operational capabilities" to counter Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threats.
The dispute over the cost escalated as U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster mentioned a possible renegotiation of the THAAD cost. He said Washington will stick to the allies' existing agreement "until any renegotiation."
Experts here said that Washington might have raised the cost issue to get the upper hand in future negotiations over the cost-sharing for the upkeep of some 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula that have long served as a central deterrent against the North.
During the meeting, Hwang also said that he would resign "as soon as possible" after the May 9 presidential vote. But he said his resignation will be tendered "in consultation with the next government" to ensure that state affairs will be run smoothly without him.
Asked if he will join politics after his departure from office, he refused to give a clear-cut answer.
"As our country has so far been in such a grave situation, I have had no room in my mind to think about what I will do," he said.
Hwang took over as acting president in December after then-President Park Geun-hye was impeached by parliament over a corruption scandal.
Park, who was ousted on March 10, is facing a trial on a string of criminal charges, including bribery and abuse of power.