The United States and South Korea have agreed in principle to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to better defend against growing missile threats from North Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carer said Tuesday.
"To answer your question about THAAD on the Korean Peninsula, we are discussing that with the Koreans. We've agreed in principle to do that," Carter said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing after being asked for an update on the talks Seoul and Washington have launched to look into a THAAD deployment.
"I should say the reason for that is to be able to protect the entirety of the peninsula against North Korean missiles of greater range. That's why we want to add THAAD to the already existing Patriots, both South Korean Patriots and U.S. Patriots," he said.
Shortly after North Korea's launch of a long-rage rocket last month, South Korea and the U.S. jointly announced they would begin official discussions on the possible placement of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in the South.
That ended more than a year of soul-searching by Seoul over how to deal with the issue amid Washington's desire to deploy the system and China's intense opposition to it. The North's twin provocations of its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and then a missile test a month later gave Seoul justification for the decision.
China has claimed THAAD can be used against it, despite repeated assurances from Washington that the system is aimed only at deterring North Korean threats.
Beijing has repeatedly expressed regret over the decision to begin THAAD talks.
Seoul and Washington formally launched the THAAD talks earlier this month.
Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters that the U.S. hopes to talk with China and address its concerns about a THAAD deployment, stressing the U.S. and the South had just begun discussions, and no decision had been made, according to Reuters.
"THAAD is truly only capable of defending the territory on which it's deployed. It is not capable of the kind of reach that the Chinese seem to be afraid that it has," she told reporters at a breakfast meeting, according to the report.
Carter said that the U.S. began to increase both the number of our ground-based interceptor systems and also its capabilities in response to "the possibility of North Korea having the capability to range the United States with ICBMs."
"We're increasing the number of those interceptors from 30 to 44. We're improving the Kill Vehicle on the front end and we're adding radars to that," Carter said. "So we're doing a great deal, but unfortunately we have to because we see, as you mentioned yesterday, the action of North Korea."
North Korea has carried out a series of missile launches in recent weeks, including the latest on Monday, as the South and the U.S. have been conducting annual joint military exercises that Pyongyang has long branded as a rehearsal for invasion.
Last week, the North also fired two medium-range Rodong missiles, prompting the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency meeting and issue a statement condemning the firings as a violation of Security Council resolutions banning Pyongyang from any ballistic missile activity. (Yonhap)