The United States on Tuesday begun deploying its Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile system to South Korea.
The U.S. Pacific Command confirmed this a day after North Korea launched four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.
In spite of previous objections from China, the U.S. said the THAAD system was a “strictly defensive capability” and posed no threat to other countries in the region.
The news came hours after North Korea said it had carried out a missile launch exercise targeting US bases in Japan.
A report from North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA did not say when the exercise was carried out, but was seemingly referring to Monday’s launch, which was roundly condemned by China, the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
Harry Harris, U.S. Pacific Command commander said: “continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea.”
At least three of Monday’s rockets landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan, just 300 to 350 kms off the country’s coast.
A White House statement said that the U.S. was working to increase its defences against North Korea’s ballistic missiles and would cooperate with Japan and South Korea to show Pyongyang that there were “very dire consequences for its provocative and threatening actions.”
In telephone conversations with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean Acting President Hwang Ahn, U.S. President Donald Trump also emphasised the U.S.’ “ironclad commitment” to the countries.
Earlier, Abe said Trump had assured him he would stand by Tokyo “100 per cent.”
KCNA said Pyongyang’s ballistic missile exercise was conducted by an artillery unit “tasked to strike the bases of the US imperialist aggression forces in Japan” and that they were supervised by the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
The drill was an apparent protest against ongoing South Korean and US military exercises, which Pyongyang says are being used to prepare an attack on it. Seoul and Washington deny the accusation.
The U.S.-South Korea “Foal Eagle” military maneuvers began last Wednesday.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also condemned North Korea’s missile launch, saying “such actions violate Security Council resolutions and seriously undermine regional peace and stability.”
The U. S. and Japan have requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Monday’s incident.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said that the rockets were launched from the north-west of North Korea and travelled around 1,000 kms before landing in the sea.
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