Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor Reuters

The United States plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea “as soon as possible,” a senior U.S. official said Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, also told a congressional hearing the United States was in discussions with international partners, including the European Union, to deny North Korea access to international banking infrastructure after its recent nuclear and missile tests.

Speaking to the Asia Pacific subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Russel added that the exact timing of the deployment of the THAAD system was a matter for the Pentagon.

But, he added, “Given the accelerating pace of North Korea’s missile tests, we intend to deploy on an accelerated basis — I would say as soon as possible.”

Asked if the deployment was a “done deal,” Russel replied, “Yes, I do.”

Russel said last week that THAAD deployment was not negotiable as part of efforts to agree on new UN sanctions on North Korea after its fifth nuclear test on September 9 – the latest in a series of tests by Pyongyang in violation of UN resolutions.

North Korea's military has in the past threatened a "physical response" if the United States and South Korea deploy the advanced missile defense system to the Korean peninsula.

China, whose full backing is widely seen as crucial for sanctions on North Korea to be effective, is strongly opposed to THAAD deployment as well and some experts have argued it should be part of talks on new UN measures, noted Reuters.

Russel said China shared concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program and there had been a vast improvement in cooperation on sanctions, even though there was “an awful lot more” Beijing needed to do to tighten them.

He said there had been “a very constructive and honest candid set of ongoing conversations” with China on new UN sanctions and added, “I hope you will see, as one of the products of that, real headway in the discussions.”

China, North Korea’s main ally and neighbor, has been angered by North Korea’s nuclear tests and has said it will work within the United Nations to formulate a necessary response.

However, China said on Tuesday it was opposed to any country using its own laws to carry out “long-arm jurisdiction.”

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