US approves anti-ballistic missile sale to Japan amid North Korea threat

A pedestrian looks at a TV screen displaying a map of Japan and the Korean Peninsula on Sept 15, 2017, following a North Korean missile test that passed over Japan.
A pedestrian looks at a TV screen displaying a map of Japan and the Korean Peninsula on Sept 15, 2017, following a North Korean missile test that passed over Japan. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US government has approved the sale of anti-ballistic missiles to Japan to defend itself against a growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, a State Department official said on Tuesday (Jan 9).

News of the sale comes as North and South Korea held their first talks in more than two years.

In a joint statement after 11 hours of talks, North and South Korea said they had agreed to hold military to military talks and that North Korea would send a large delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The missile deal follows a year of ramped-up North Korean missile launches, some of them over Japanese territory, and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test. These actions have prompted a stepped-up US-led campaign to toughen UN sanctions, which Pyongyang has called an act of war.

The State Department on Tuesday asked Congress to approve the US$133 million (S$177 million) sale of the four missiles and related hardware, which can be launched from destroyers at sea or from a land-based system.

The sale of the anti-ballistic missiles, made by Raytheon Co and BAE Systems, follows through "on President Trump's commitment to provide additional defensive capabilities to treaty allies threatened by the DPRK's provocative behaviour," the official said, using the initials for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea .

Japan formally decided in December it would expand its ballistic missile defence system with US-made ground-based Aegis radar stations and interceptors.

The proposal to build two Aegis Ashore batteries without the missiles will likely cost at least US$2 billion and was not likely to be operational until 2023 at the earliest, sources familiar with the plan told Reuters in December.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Japan Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera, in a phone call on Monday, "condemned North Korea's reckless and unlawful behaviour", according to a Pentagon statement.