U.S. missile shield expands to counter North

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U.S. missile shield expands to counter North

In retaliation for a chain of provocations from North Korea, the Pentagon on Friday announced plans to double the number of ground-based missile interceptors deployed on the U.S. West Coast.

Over the next four years, the United States will install 14 additional long-range missile interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska at a cost of nearly $1 billion, said U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, stating that Washington wants to “stay ahead” of missile threats posed by Pyongyang and Iran.

This will boost the number of long-range missile interceptors from 26 based at Fort Greely and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to a total of 44 by 2017.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry conveyed the Pentagon’s intentions to his Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, in their first phone conversation on Saturday.

The Pentagon also plans to deploy a second missile defense radar system in Japan which could track any missile launch from the North and provide early warning, and is considering a site on the East Coast for additional ground-based interceptors that could strike down long-range missiles, Hagel added.

“The United States has missile-defense systems in place to protect us from limited ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] attacks,” Hagel explained. “But North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and is engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations.”

The North successfully tested a long-range missile that launched a satellite into space in December, conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12 and threatened a pre-emptive nuclear attack that would turn Washington into a “sea of fire.” It took its threats a step further last week by unilaterally scraping the 1953 Korean War armistice in retaliation for further punitive sanctions imposed unanimously by the UN Security Council. Hagel further cited the North’s display of a mobile intercontinental ballistic KN-08 last April, which defense experts believe is capable of reaching the United States. But U.S. officials state there is no evidence that Pyongyang can currently launch a miniaturized warhead mounted on a missile.

Kerry reiterated the importance of the U.S.-Korea alliance during his phone call with the foreign minister on Saturday, a sentiment reciprocated by Yun.

The increased tension on the Korean Peninsula only further confirms the importance of a cohesive North Korea strategy, and the two agreed to cooperate on implementation of UN sanctions against Pyongyang, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

Yun further emphasized that the ongoing U.S.-Korea military exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle also contribute to controlling North Korea’s “reckless provocations” and bolster national defense. The conversation came after the North Korean military fired short-range missiles into the East Sea on Friday.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter arrives in Seoul today to evaluate the security situation and meet with Korean foreign affairs and national defense officials.

Kerry is slated to visit Korea next month as a part of his Northeast Asia tour, which also includes stops in Japan and China. He will focus on bilateral, multilateral and regional issues as well as economic and security cooperation in the region during his visit, the U.S. State Department said.

This will be Kerry’s first visit to Asia since he took the helm at the State Department in February and comes ahead of the first summit between President Barack Obama and President Park Geun-hye to be held in May coinciding with 60 years of alliance between the countries following the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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