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Speculations grow over THAAD talks

Expectations are growing that Seoul and Washington will soon initiate official talks over the latter’s potential deployment of an advanced missile defense asset on the peninsula to address Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats.

Although Seoul’s Defense Ministry denied news reports Friday that informal talks over the installation of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system were already underway, it said the system would be “helpful” for the country’s security.


The ministry said that there had not been any requests yet from Washington for any bilateral consultations over THAAD, which Beijing and Moscow have so far vehemently opposed.

“We have yet to receive any request for consultations over the deployment of THAAD to the U.S. Forces Korea,” ministry representative Kim Min-seok told reporters during a regular briefing. “But we understand that there are discussions over the deployment within the U.S. government.”

On Wednesday, Wall Street Journal reported, citing a U.S. official, that there was a “strong chance” that the U.S. could announce in the next week or so that the two countries are in negotiations over THAAD.

The report also said that informal talks between the allies over THAAD had recently increased, and that Seoul is leaning toward introducing the defense asset.

The THAAD deployment is a tricky diplomatic one as China and Russia has expressed strong opposition to it, arguing that the key asset of the U.S.’ multilayered missile shield could potentially target it.

Critics also suspect that given that THAAD is a central part of the U.S. MD program, its deployment in Korea would mean Seoul’s participation in Washington’s global missile shield program ― despite Seoul’s repeated denial.

The U.S. has argued that THAAD is a purely defensive system, and that it would contribute to a layered missile defense system that would enhance the South Korea-U.S. alliance’s existing missile defense capabilities.

The THAAD issue resurfaced after Pyongyang conducted what it claims to be a hydrogen bomb test earlier this month.

Calls for the deployment further increased as Pyongyang was seen preparing for a long-range rocket launch. The U.S.-based research institute 38 North said based on its analysis of satellite imagery that Pyongyang could launch a rocket as early as in a week.

Amid escalating missile threats, President Park Geun-hye and Defense Minister Han Min-koo have mentioned the need to review the defense utility of THAAD strictly from the perspective of national security, indicating that Seoul is not ruling out the possibility of the deployment.

The THAAD is designed to intercept short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles at altitudes of 40 to 150 kilometers during the final phase of their flight, after detecting the missiles with a radar that has a maximum range of about 1,800 kilometers.