SEOUL: The United States has temporarily deployed an additional Patriot missile battery in South Korea following North Korea’s recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch, US Forces Korea said Saturday.
The move came as the two allies plan to start detailed discussions on bringing in an advanced, high-altitude US missile defense system opposed by China as early as next week.
“This deployment is part of an emergency deployment readiness exercise conducted in response to recent North Korean provocations,” the US Forces Korea said in a press statement, referring to the temporary rollout of a Patriot missile battery, which was flown from Fort Bliss, Texas this week.
“Exercises like this ensure we are always ready to defend against an attack from North Korea,” said Lieutenant General Thomas Vandal, commander of the US Eighth Army.
The newly deployed Patriot battery is conducting ballistic missile defense training with the Eighth Army’s 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade at Osan Air Base, some 47 kilometers (30 miles) south of Seoul.
The brigade has its own two Patriot battalions. One Patriot battalion is reportedly composed of four batteries.
Just hours after North Korea launched a long-range rocket that both condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test, South Korea and the United States announced their intention to start discussions on deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD).
The Pentagon has since stressed that it would like the system to be deployed in South Korea “as quickly as possible”.
A senior South Korean defense ministry official said Friday detailed discussions on THAAD deployment would kick off as early as next week.
China and Russia argue that it would trigger an arms race in the region, with Beijing voicing its “deep concern” over the deployment.
South Korea had previously declined to formally discuss bringing in THAAD in deference to the sensitivities of China, its most important trade partner.
But North Korea’s continued missile testing and frustration with Beijing’s resistance to imposing harsh sanctions on Pyongyang apparently triggered a change in Seoul’s stance.
The US Congress adopted tougher sanctions on North Korea Friday, in a bid to punish the reclusive Asian nation for its provocative recent nuclear test and rocket launch.
The House voted 408 to 2 in favor of the bipartisan measure, which would slap sanctions on any person or entity importing goods or technology or training related to weapons of mass destruction into North Korea, or anyone who knowingly engages in human rights abuses.
The Senate adopted the legislation Wednesday, following a similar move by the House earlier this month. Friday’s vote was on a compromise version.
It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The measure also heaps additional financial pressure on the already-sanctioned regime of leader Kim Jong-Un, by aiming at cutting down on money laundering and narcotics trafficking, two major illicit activities believed to be funneling millions of dollars into Kim’s inner circle.
Pyongyang shocked the world last month and earned a global rebuke when it announced it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.
On Sunday, it defiantly launched a satellite-bearing rocket, a move the West sees as a cover for a ballistic missile test in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
Under the bill, penalties for the sanctionable activities would include the seizure of assets, visa bans and denial of government contracts.
And for the first time, it establishes a framework for sanctions in response to North Korean cyber threats, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker.
Corker however admitted it would be difficult to target Chinese firms linked to Pyongyang.
“This is about North Korea, it’s not about punishing China,” he told Agence France-Presse. “But if there are, we know there are, entities that are helping facilitate (prohibited activities), those entities would be punished.”
China, the North’s main diplomatic ally, has been resisting the US-led push for tougher UN sanctions.
Although fiercely critical of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, Beijing is more concerned at the prospect of Kim’s regime being pushed to collapse—triggering chaos on China’s border.
Japan unveiled unilateral measures earlier this week, including prohibiting North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports and a total entry ban on North Korean nationals into Japan.