Controversial missile defense shield operational in South Korea

Carla Harmon
May 2, 2017

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss military operations overseas, said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, an American-made system to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles, had reached initial operating capability.

While South Korea insists the original deal remains in force, the local economy has already paid a relatively heavy price for THAAD due to alleged Chinese sanctions stemming from Beijing's open disapproval of the system.

"Kim's conversation is an ugly pro-American running dog's unacceptable provocative curse at the North", the North's propaganda website Uriminjokkiri said.

President Trump told Bloomberg News on Monday that he would be willing to meet with leader Kim Jong-un under the "right circumstances", despite heightening global tensions.

An embassy official would not say how long Mike Pompeo would be staying in the South Korean capital.

South Korea's acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn called for stronger vigilance because of continuing provocation by Seoul's poor and isolated neighbour, and for countries such as China to increase pressure on the North.

China vehemently criticizes the installation, claiming it threatens its security interests.

Another major daily, Dong-A Ilbo, declared on its front page yesterday: "Trump Risk. we need to come up with new strategy for Korea-US alliance". South Korean officials would not confirm the report.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high for weeks over fears the North may conduct a long-range missile test, or its sixth nuclear test, around the time of the April 15 anniversary of its state founder's birth.

Tasked with explaining Trump's flattery, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said there would be no meeting with the secretive North Korean leader until circumstances were right and numerous conditions met.

"If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it", Trump told Bloomberg News.

"We are looking at that with a great ally, South Korea", he said.

"I guess because he is still a head of state, so it's - it - it is, sort of - there's a diplomatic piece to this", Spicer said. "I mean, we'll see".

As the speculation sparked security jitters, the USA has sent a strike group led by aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and nuclear-powered submarine USS Michigan to waters off the Korean Peninsula.

"(THAAD is) operational and has the ability to intercept North Korean missiles and defend the Republic", a USA defense official told AFP, while adding that the system had only "reached initial intercept capability".

North Korea launched another missile test over the weekend which was branded unsuccessful by Seoul and Washington but was heavily criticised by the west. It has conducted two nuclear tests and a series of missile-related activities at an unprecedented pace since the beginning of a year ago.

North and South Korea have been at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended with truce but not a treaty, meaning technically they are still at war.

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