Thaad talks slated for this week

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Thaad talks slated for this week

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, said that a joint working group to discuss terms for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system on the Korean Peninsula is expected to meet “within a week.”

Testifying to the House Armed Services Committee in Washington on Wednesday, Scaparrotti added that he would be able to estimate a timeline of the deployment of the U.S.-led anti-ballistic missile defense system to South Korea “relatively soon,” once the joint working group meets.

“We’re confident that process will go well,” the commander said.

“It’s going to take some time for us to find the right location because where you locate it makes a difference on how effective it is.”

Some locations that have been considered include Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi; Wonju, Gangwon; Chikgok, North Gyeongsang.

Unlike the statement given by Secretary of State John Kerry, who said in a press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Tuesday that Washington was not “anxious” about deploying the Thaad battery, Scaparrotti warned that North Korea’s weapons arsenal was “growing in strength” and accuracy.

He emphasized the Thaad discussions as being “important” and needed for “a layered defense.”

On Tuesday, Seoul and Washington abruptly delayed the signing of a “terms of reference” agreement on Thaad talks due to the fact that there remained areas that needed to be discussed, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.

The two allies declared after North Korea’s long-range missile launch on Feb. 7 that they would officially begin discussions on the U.S. Forces Korea’s placement of the Thaad system in South Korea, which would cover where the battery is placed as well as who would shoulder the management costs.

Seoul and Washington have both insisted that the placement of the Thaad battery is to provide “layered defense” in response to nuclear and missile threats by Pyongyang.

During his testimony, Scaparrotti referred to the “semi-war status” declared by Pyongyang in August as the “highest tension that we have seen, probably since 1994” and warned that a conflict with North Korea could resemble a conflict the scale of World War II.

In August, landmine blasts in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that maimed two South Korean soldiers resulted in escalated military tensions, in which Pyongyang declared a quasi-state of war. However, the situation eased after a six-point inter-Korean deal was brokered by senior officials later that month.

Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, also testified at the hearing.

In his speech, entitled, “The Challenge of Conventional and Hybrid Warfare in the Asia-Pacific Region: The Changing the Nature of the Security Environment and its Effect on Military Planning,” he warned that “China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea” and called Beijing’s opposition to the Thaad system “preposterous.”

The Thaad missile defense system comes with a powerful radar system that can cover more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), and both China and Russia have expressed concerns that the radar could be used as a possible method of surveillance against them.

A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense reiterated Thursday that the U.S. Forces Korea and the U.S. government were “holding internal discussions.” Once that is finalized, he said, the deal on the terms of reference will likely be signed.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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