SEOUL • Washington and Seoul have postponed talks on deploying an advanced missile defence system opposed by Beijing, South Korea's Defence Ministry said yesterday.
The announcement came on the same day as China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi was set to discuss North Korea with US Secretary of State John Kerry during his three-day visit to Washington.
Seoul and Washington had been set to sign an agreement yesterday on setting up a joint working group to look into the roll-out of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD) against North Korea's growing missile threat.
"The related accord is in the final stages but has been postponed by a day or two because of last-minute negotiations," said Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun.
The THAAD system fires anti-ballistic missiles into the sky to smash into enemy missiles either inside or outside Earth's atmosphere during their final flight phase.
The interceptor missiles carry no warheads, instead relying on kinetic energy to destroy their targets.
More than two weeks ago, the allies announced their intention to begin talks on the system's deployment following Pyongyang's long-range ballistic missile launch on Feb 7 and its nuclear test in mid-January, but negotiations to launch the joint working group were protracted.
Beijing opposes the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying warning on Monday that it should not be used as a front to "undermine China's own legitimate (security) interests".
South Korea's Defence Ministry has reiterated that the US missile defence system targets only North Korea and that its deployment is an issue between Seoul and Washington. The ministry said it expects official talks on THAAD to kick off next week once the two sides set up the joint working group later this week.
Last Thursday, US President Barack Obama signed off on new sanctions against North Korea to punish the reclusive Asian country.
The measures tighten sanctions on anyone importing goods or technology related to weapons of mass destruction into North Korea, or anyone who knowingly engages in human rights abuses.
Those who break the sanctions face the seizure of assets, visa bans and the denial of government contracts.
The aim is to increase pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for his disregard of UN Security Council resolutions aimed at deterring Pyongyang from advancing its development of nuclear weapons and conducting ballistic missile launches.