North could reverse Thaad decision: Rhodes

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North could reverse Thaad decision: Rhodes

Washington could reconsider the deployment of its antiballistic missile system to South Korea, said a White House deputy national security adviser on Wednesday, if Pyongyang abandoned its nuclear and missile programs.

“The reason we’re deploying Thaad [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] is because of the provocations from North Korea and the constant testing of ballistic missiles and the nuclear tests as well,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser for U.S. President Barack Obama, in a press briefing in Vientiane, Laos.

“In terms of what could lead us to change our minds,” he added, “North Korea could abandon its ballistic missile program and nuclear programs.”

When asked by a reporter if China enforcing more effective sanctions on North Korea could lead to the U.S.-led Thaad system not being deployed, Rhodes replied, “Sanctions enforcement, no, would not lead to a reconsideration of Thaad.”

Rhodes accompanied Obama to the Laotian capital where a series of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meetings were taking place, following Pyongyang’s latest intermediate-range ballistic missile launches toward waters controlled by Japan on Monday.

“A change of behavior from North Korea is the thing that could change that calculus,” Rhodes said, “but we have not yet seen any indication, given that they just recently launched another ballistic missile.”

On Tuesday, Obama and President Park Geun-hye, who also participated in the Asean summits, held bilateral talks and agreed to put additional pressure on North Korea for its continued provocations. They also reconfirmed the need for the Thaad system.

Rhodes said the two leaders focused on “our determination to move forward with the deployment of the Thaad system,” which “ultimately is necessary to counter the threat from North Korean ballistic missiles.” He added that Obama told this to Chinese President Xi Jinping as well.

Both China and Russia have expressed strong opposition to the deployment of the Thaad battery, saying it compromised their strategic security interests. They have especially been concerned that the Thaad’s powerful X-Band radar can be used to spy on their territories.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve also made the case to the Chinese that this is not a system directed at them,” said Rhodes, “that this is directed at a threat from North Korea so that they should not have concerns about the deployment of the system.”

Rhodes went on to emphasize the importance of trilateral cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, adding, “And in that regard, we’ve welcomed the progress and the leadership shown by President Park and [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe as well.”

Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, makes a four-day visit to Seoul and Tokyo from Saturday to talk to his counterparts, according to the State Department.

His visit comes as North Korean nuclear envoy Choe Son-hui, top envoy to the six-party talks, was reported on Wednesday to have headed to Beijing.

Following the enactment of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 in February, Washington has been stepping up pressure on Pyongyang, which included imposing in July new human rights violation sanctions including the regime’s young leader Kim Jong-un for the first time.

The U.S. State Department last week submitted a classified report to the Congress detailing a plan for North Korea to get better access to outside information through “electronic mass communications,” possibly using cheap and accessible devices such as USBs, MP3 players, radios and DVDs.

This report was submitted last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee and comes with the notion that better access to South Korean dramas and movies could help bring about a change to the North Korean system.

“The North Korean human rights issue is a key component of the United States’ policy on Pyongyang,” said Cho June-hyuck, spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, though he could not elaborate further on the report since it was classified.

“As is well known, North Korea is a closed society, so they may receive a considerable shock in the case of an inflow of outside information, and based on a survey of defectors, access to such outside information plays a large role in forming their perception toward the South,” he added.

“Thus, South Korea and the United States place considerable importance on this issue and will continue to closely discuss and cooperate on it.”

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

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