The commander of US troops stationed in South Korea said on Tuesday he had proposed deploying an advanced missile-defence system to the country, to counter the growing threat of North Korea’s weapons capabilities.
In March, the North test fired a mid-range Rodong missile with a range of more than 1,000 km, prompting condemnation from the UN Security Council, and being seen as preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test.
“I recommended the deployment of the THAAD (Theatre High Altitude Area Defence) missiles to South Korea,” Yonhap News Agency quoted General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of US forces in South Korea, as saying.
The top US military official also acts as the head of the combined command leading South Korea and US forces defending the South, which remains technically at war with North Korea under a truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean war.
The United States has carried out a site survey in South Korea for possible locations for the THAAD battery, but no final decisions have been made to deploy the system, media have reported.
Scaparrotti said the United States had yet to start official discussions with South Korean officials over the deployment.
South Korea’s defence ministry said the country would review cooperation with the United States on the deployment once Washington formally made the proposal.
“I understand the US defence department was internally studying (the defence system’s deployment). When a formal request for cooperation comes in from the American side, the defence ministry will consider it,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told a news briefing.
South Korea has so far opted not to be part of the US missile defence partnership that covers the defence of Japan from the North’s missile threats.
Instead, it has been developing its own independent anti-missile system, the Korean Air and Missile Defence System (KAMD).
North Korea may be closer than previously thought to putting a nuclear warhead on a missile, some experts say, making a mockery of years of UN sanctions to curb such a programme.
The United States will not be deterred from plans to strengthen its military position in Asia by emerging threats elsewhere, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has said.
The US THAAD system is designed to intercept ballistic missiles at high altitudes.