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(2nd LD) THAAD deployment will be helpful for national defense: Seoul

2016/01/29 17:46

(ATTN: REVISES dateline; UPDATES with China's reaction in last 3 paras)

SEOUL/BEIJING, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) -- Deployment of the United States' advanced missile defense system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, in South Korea will be helpful in defending the country from North Korean threats, but the country has no plans to announce any decision on the matter in the near future, a defense official said Friday.

"Our government will consider every measure to prepare against North Korea's missile threats," the Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

"If U.S. Forces Korea deploys THAAD, it will help our national security and defense," Kim said.

The official government stance signals the U.S. move to deploy the THAAD system inside the USFK is gaining momentum in South Korea.

It also marks a step forward from the country's more cautious stance in the past that South Korea will weigh the THAAD issue in accordance with national security interests.

Earlier in the day, the U.S.-based Wall Street Journal reported the U.S. could announce next week or so that the two countries are in negotiations over the THAAD system.

Behind the scenes, the THAAD is close to a done deal, the report said, quoting an unidentified former U.S. official.

The spokesman refuted the report, indicating that there will be no such announcement next week.

"The South Korean government has not been offered negotiations by the U.S. government," as internal discussion is now under way within the U.S. government over the issue, Kim said.

On the South Korean side, it is reviewing at a working level how effective the deployment could be from a military perspective, Kim added.

The latest comments by the defense official mark one of the burgeoning signs that South Korea is warming up to the idea of the deployment of the THAAD system, a source of intense protest from China which comes within the range of the THAAD if it is brought here.

Earlier this month, Defense Minister Han Min-koo said during a news interview that South Korea needs to consider deploying the THAAD system from the perspective of national defense, a comment that came about three weeks after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test.

A local industry rumor said South Korea, the U.S. and U.S.-based THAAD manufacturer Lockheed Martin started negotiations on the deployment issue, having decided to bring in two THAAD batteries and choose where to deploy them inside the South.

A host of Lockheed Martin officials have visited South Korea over the past month, presumably in connection with the quickening moves, sources said.

On Jan. 6, North Korea said it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, raising security worries over the reclusive country's advancing missile and nuclear threats.

The Defense Ministry also warned Thursday that an abrupt long-range missile test could follow the recent nuclear test as part of North Korea's efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

In a swift response to the South Korean remarks Friday, China pressed the neighbor to "handle the matter prudently."

   The Korean Peninsula is currently in a "very complex and sensitive state," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said to Yonhap News Agency in Beijing.

The national interest of other countries and regional peace should also be part of considerations when any nation seeks to enhance its national security, the spokeswoman noted.

pbr@yna.co.kr

(END)

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