(LEAD) White House: U.S. stands shoulder to shoulder with S. Korea amid Chinese protests over THAAD
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(LEAD) White House: U.S. stands shoulder to shoulder with S. Korea amid Chinese protests over THAAD

2017/03/08 05:15

(ATTN: UPDATES with State Department comments in last 2 paras)

WASHINGTON, March 7 (Yonhap) -- The United States stands shoulder to shoulder with South Korea and Japan to protect the allies from North Korean attacks, the White House said Tuesday, as China angrily protested the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system.

Earlier Tuesday, South Korea's Defense Ministry and U.S. Forces Korea said they have brought two interceptor-missile launchers and other elements of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) into the U.S. base in Osan, south of Seoul.

The move marks the beginning of a deployment that China has vehemently opposed, claiming that the system can be used against it, despite repeated assurances from South Korea and the U.S. that it is designed only to defend against North Korean threats.

China's Foreign Ministry said later Tuesday that the country "solemnly" objects to the deployment, and vowed to "resolutely take necessary actions in order to safeguard our security interests."

   In response, White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated the U.S. security commitment to the allies.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with Japan and South Korea in doing what we can to protect that region in particular from an attack from North Korea. We understand the situation. We continue to work with them. As I mentioned, the president spoke to both leaders yesterday and we provided a readout of those calls," he said.

"But we obviously understand the concerns of China, but this is a national security issue for them," he said.

On Monday, Trump reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to use the full range of the United States military capabilities to protect South Korea and Japan when he spoke separately with South Korea's acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a day after the North fired a barrage of four ballistic missiles.

Trump also warned that the North will face "very dire consequences" for its provocations.

State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner reiterated THAAD is a purely defensive system.

"I think they've been very clear that THAAD ... is clearly a defensive system. And the reason we're pursuing this implementation or deployment of THAAD is because of North Korea's continued bad behavior," he said. "That they continue to carry out exercises, or rather tests that, frankly, not only threaten the stability of the Korean Peninsula but the region and even the national security of the United States of America."