Four more U.S. THAAD anti-missile launchers will be set up on a former golf course south of Seoul by week’s end, despite continuing protests from local residents, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday.
The U.S. Army has already deployed two of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense truck-mounted launchers at Seongju, about 186 miles south of Seoul, against the escalating threats from North Korea, but South Korea had balked at installing the full battery of six launchers following complaints from China.
The South Korean Ministry of Defense said deployment of the full battery of THAAD hit-to-kill launchers designed to protect against short- and intermediate-range missiles was “provisional” pending a continuing environmental assessment, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
The Lockheed Martin THAAD system has never been used in combat but has a high success rate in test launches. THAAD would be ineffective against Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), which North Korea has been developing.
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China has protested that THAAD’s powerful X-band radars pose a national security threat to the region, and Russia earlier this week warned it might have to boost its own defense assets in the northeast Pacific to counter THAAD.
In China on Monday, where Russian President Vladimir Putin was attending an economic summit, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Russia is considering measures to counter THAAD, the TASS news agency reported.
“If all this begins to unfold at such alarming rates, then inevitably, then at some moment, the question will probably arise as to our response in military terms of creating some counterbalances,” Ryabkov said.
The THAAD announcement came as South Korean President Moon Jae-in met Wednesday with Putin in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok. Both leaders said that easing the crisis on the Korean peninsula can come about only through showing a willingness for peace talks with the North, a move opposed by U.S. President Donald Trump.
At the meeting on the sidelines of a far eastern economic summit, Moon was also focused on boosting trade with Russia following Trump’s threat to cancel a trade agreement with South Korea.
“I believe the situation may enter an uncontrollable state if the North does not halt its provocations,” Moon said at a joint news conference with Putin. “So I wish to work together to have North Korea stop its provocations and find ways to fundamentally resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.”
Moon pressed for additional sanctions on North Korea, including a cutoff of oil supplies, but Putin has called sanctions “a road to nowhere.”
“I am concerned cutting off oil supplies to North Korea may cause damage to people in hospitals or other ordinary citizens there,” Putin told Moon.
“We should not give in to emotions and push Pyongyang [North Korea] into a corner,” Putin said. “As never before, everyone should show restraint and refrain from steps leading to escalation and tensions.”
Additional sanctions against North Korea have been proposed in the United Nations following the North’s underground nuclear test last Saturday of what may have been a hydrogen bomb, but it is unclear whether the sanctions would pass in the Security Council, where China and Russia hold veto power.
In a phone call with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump repeated his stance that “now is not the time to talk to North Korea, and made clear that all options remain open to defend the United States and its allies against North Korean aggression,” the White House said in a readout of the call.
North Korea has also shown no interest in opening a dialogue.
Trump also spoke by phone earlier Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping before going to North Dakota for a tax reform event.
Aboard Air Force One, Trump told reporters, “We had a very good phone call. It lasted for a long time. President Xi would like to do something. We’ll see whether or not he can do it, but we will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea.
“I believe that President Xi agrees with me 100 percent,” Trump said. “He doesn’t want to see what’s happening there either. We had a very, very frank and very strong phone call.”
When asked if the U.S. is considering military action against North Korea, Trump said, “We’re going to see what happens. We’ll see what happens. Certainly, that’s not our first choice, but we will see what happens.”
On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis phoned his South Korean and Japanese counterparts to assure them of the U.S.’s “ironclad” commitment to their defense, chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said.
Mattis pledged to work with Japan to boost its missile defense capabilities, and also pledged to bolster joint military exercises with South Korea and increase the U.S. naval and air presence in the region.