Seoul: South Korean and US defence officials said today they would begin formal talks on the deployment on the Korean peninsula of a US missile defence system to counter the growing threat from North Korea.
The announcement followed a North Korean rocket launch that the US and its allies condemned as a covert ballistic missile test.
“It has been decided to formally start talks on the possibility of deploying the THAAD system to South Korea as part of steps to bolster the missile defence of the Korea-US alliance,” said Yoo Jeh-Seung, the South’s deputy defence minister for policy.
There has been speculation for years about the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system — one of the most advanced in the world — to the South, one of Washington’s main Asian allies.
The US insists that it is a deterrent necessitated by the North’s advancing ballistic missile programme, while China and Russia argue that it would undermine stability and could trigger an arms race in a delicately balanced region.
“The Korea-US alliance had no choice but to take such a defence action because North Korea staged a strategic provocation and is refusing to have a genuine dialogue on de-nuclearisation,” Yoo said in a joint briefing with Lieutenant General Thomas Vandal, commander of the US Eighth Army based in the South.
Vandal argued that it was “time to move forward” with the THAAD issue, claiming there was “growing support” in the South for its deployment.
Pyongyang says any such move would be a Cold War tactic to “contain” China and Russia.
But Yoo stressed the THAAD system — if deployed — would “operate only regarding North Korea”.
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye today urged a tough UN response to North Korea’s long-range rocket launch that came barely a month after its fourth nuclear test.
“The UN Security Council should take strong punitive measures quickly,” Park said in televised address following the morning launch.
Speaking in response to the North’s rocket launch, Kim Yong-Hyun, chief operations officer at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers today the upcoming annual joint US-South Korea military exercises will be the largest yet held.
The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, to be staged in March and April this year, will boast the “most cutting-edge” technology, Kim said.
The South’s military will also set up more loudspeakers along the border to broadcast propaganda programmes to the North in response to the rocket launch, he added.