US sends more Patriot missiles to South Korea
Published 13/02/2016 | 03:01
The United States has temporarily deployed an additional Patriot missile battery in South Korea in response to North Korea's nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch.
The move comes ahead of talks next week to set up an even more sophisticated US missile defence, which has worried China and Russia.
The tough new stance follows South Korea's decision to shut down an inter-Korean factory park that had been the rival Koreas' last major symbol of co-operation, but Seoul said it had been used by North Korea to fund its nuclear and missile programmes.
North Korea responded by deporting South Korean citizens, seizing assets and vowing to militarise the park.
South Korea cut off power and water supplies to the industrial park on Friday and announced that its planned talks with the United States on deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), one of the most advanced missile defence systems in the world, could start next week. Officials say they have yet to set a specific starting date for the talks.
In the meantime, the US military command in South Korea said an air defence battery unit from Fort Bliss, Texas, has been conducting ballistic missile training using the Patriot system at Osan Air Base near Seoul.
Lt Gen Thomas Vandal, commander of the US Eighth Army, said "exercises like this ensure we are always ready to defend against an attack from North Korea".
"North Korea's continued development of ballistic missiles against the expressed will of the international community requires the alliance to maintain effective and ready ballistic missile defences," he said.
A spokeswoman for US Forces Korea could not confirm how long the Patriot missile battery from Texas would be deployed in South Korea. The US military already has an operating Patriot missile defence system in South Korea to counter the threat of North Korea's shorter-range arsenal and medium-range missiles.
South Korean media has long speculated that the two countries are working on a THAAD deployment in South Korea, but it took the North's rocket launch on Sunday, which outsiders see as a test of banned ballistic missile technology, for the allies to formally announce they will begin the missile defence talks.
Beijing and Moscow are sensitive to the possibility of THAAD in South Korea; critics say the system could help US radar spot missiles in other countries.
China's state media quickly made the country's displeasure known, while Russia also expressed worries about the deployment. North Korea has previously warned of a nuclear war in the region and threatened to bolster its armed forces if the THAAD deployment occurred.
In Munich, US secretary of state John Kerry met his Chinese and South Korean counterparts to discuss the response to North Korea's actions, including the missile system.
In talks with South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se, Mr Kerry expressed support for Seoul's decision to shut down the factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and discussed a broad range of potential sanctions against the North, South Korea's foreign ministry said.
Seoul and Washington want to deploy the system at an early date and the upcoming talks will discuss where and exactly when the deployment can be made, a South Korean defence official said.
The official said the THAAD deployment was designed to protect South Korea from North Korean threats and was not targeting China or anyone else.
The current stand-off flared after North Korea carried out a nuclear test last month - its fourth - followed by Sunday's long-range rocket launch. Pyongyang said the launch, which put an Earth observation satellite into orbit, was part of a peaceful space programme.