US missile shield in S. Korea: Talks go on

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting an underwater test-fire of a strategic submarine ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea, on April 23, 2016.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting an underwater test-fire of a strategic submarine ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea, on April 23, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

China, Russia had earlier raised concerns over system meant to deter N. Korea missile strikes

WASHINGTON • The White House has said talks to install a new anti- missile defence system in South Korea will continue in the wake of nuclear arms and missile tests by North Korea, despite calls by China and Russia for the US to back off.

Washington and Seoul began talks on possible deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system after Pyongyang tested its fourth nuclear bomb on Jan 6 and conducted missile tests.

The nuclear test and missile launches violate UN resolutions against North Korea backed by Russia and China. US and South Korean officials have expressed concern that the North could attempt a fifth nuclear test in a show of strength ahead of its Workers' Party congress, which begins on May 6.

North Korea test-fired what appeared to be two intermediate range ballistic missiles on Thursday, but both failed, according to the US military.

On Friday, the US said it was still in talks with ally South Korea and that the system, if installed, would not threaten other countries. "Those discussions are ongoing," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "That equipment would be oriented towards the threat that is posed by North Korea, not oriented towards China or Russia."

Mr Earnest gave no timing on when talks with South Korea may be concluded, but added that "the United States is prepared to invest resources in keeping them safe".

At a joint press briefing earlier that same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the US to respect "legitimate concerns" of China and Russia over the shield.

"This move goes beyond the defensive needs of the relevant countries. If it is deployed, it will directly impact China's and Russia's respective strategic security," Mr Wang said. "Not only does it threaten the resolution of the peninsula nuclear issue, it quite possibly could pour oil on the fire of an already tense situation, and even destroy strategic equilibrium on the peninsula."

North Korea's actions should not be used as an excuse for moves that would escalate tensions, especially the US deployment of an anti-missile system, Mr Lavrov said, according to an interpretation in Chinese.

Meanwhile, North Korea has vowed to make rapid advancements in nuclear attack capabilities if the South and the US continue with joint military drills. "Our capability to make nuclear attacks will make fast advancement every time enemies conduct war exercises," the regime's official news agency reported, citing an unidentified spokesman at its foreign ministry.

In an interview with AP news agency, Pyongyang had offered to halt its nuclear tests if Seoul and Washington suspended defensive drills, but US President Barack Obama dismissed the proposal.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'US missile shield in S. Korea: Talks go on'. Print Edition | Subscribe