By Yi Whan-woo
A senior U.S. diplomat said Friday that the proposed deployment of an American missile system in South Korea is not "a bargaining chip" with China over tougher U.N. sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear test and long-range missile launch.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel dismissed allegations that the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system is a diplomatic bargaining chip in Washington's negotiations with Beijing over the North Korean issue and other security agendas in the region.
"There's no connection between what is going on in the diplomatic track in the U.N. Security Council and the question of the deployment of THAAD," Russel told reporters in Seoul. "THAAD is not a diplomatic bargaining chip."
Russel made the remarks after a meeting with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam and Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun.
He visited Seoul to discuss issues related to a U.N. resolution on tougher sanctions against North Korea for its latest nuclear test and launch of a long-range rocket.
His visit came prior to a visit scheduled for Sunday by Wu Dawei, China's top nuclear envoy.
"This is a very important time to put our heads together and think about the way forward, particularly in implementing a new U.N. Security Council resolution once it's concluded," Russel told reporters upon arriving at Incheon International Airport.
Wu will meet his South Korean counterpart Hwang Joon-gook, the special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, and hold talks on resuming suspended dialogue on Pyongyang's denuclearization.
Diplomatic sources said that Russel and Wu are carrying their respective government's messages concerning the deployment of the THAAD battery, following the U.S.-China agreement on the draft U.N. resolution against the North.
The U.S. and China agreed on the U.N. bill, Thursday, aimed at imposing unprecedented levels of sanctions on North Korea. It awaits the U.N Security Council's approval.
Washington has seemed to argue that setting up a THAAD battery here would be inevitable if Beijing refused to punish Pyongyang and draft the U.N. bill accordingly.
China has protested against a plan by South Korean and U.S. military officials to begin working-level discussions against setting up the THAAD battery.
Beijing suspects that THAAD's long-range radar could be used to spy on its military activities while Seoul and Washington argue the primary purpose of the U.S. missile defense system is to deter North Korean attacks.
"It's likely Seoul, Washington and Beijing will comprehensively consider their respective interests on the security of the Korean Peninsula, including THAAD and the U.N. resolution against Pyongyang," a diplomatic source said.
He speculated that Beijing will ask Seoul to consider peace talks to officially end the 1950-53 Korean War in return for China's support in punishing Pyongyang.
The talks have been repeatedly proposed by the Kim Jong-un regime; but both Seoul and Washington suspect that the North could use the talks as a ploy to demand that the U.S. withdraw its troops from South Korea, without scrapping its nuclear weapons program.