The United States plans to speed up deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea, given the pace of North Korea’s missile tests, and it will be stationed there “as soon as possible,” a senior US official says.
On Tuesday Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asia, also told a congressional hearing the United States was in discussions with international partners, including the European Union, to deny North Korea access to the international banking infrastructure, after its recent nuclear and missile tests.
Russel told the Asia Pacific sub-committee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee the exact timing of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system was matter for the Pentagon, but added:
“Given the accelerating pace of North Korea’s missile tests, we intend to deploy on an accelerated basis – I would say as soon as possible.”
Asked if the deployment was a “done deal,” Russel replied: “Yes, I do.”
Russel told Reuters last week THAAD deployment was not negotiable as part of efforts to agree new UN sanctions on North Korea after its fifth nuclear test on September 9.
China, whose full backing is widely seen as crucial for sanctions on North Korea to be effective, is strongly opposed to THAAD deployment and some experts have argued it should be part of talks on new UN measures.
Asked at the hearing if consideration was being given to restricting North Korea’s access to banking transaction services such as the Swift system, as was done with Iran, Russel replied:
“The Swift system is not a US system, and therefore not under our direct control. I believe it’s an EU system.
“We are in discussions with our partners, including the EU, about tightening the application of sanctions and pressure, including and particularly to deny North Korea access to the international banking infrastructure that it has abused and manipulated in furtherance of its illicit programs.
“Our hope is that we will in fact ultimately be able to reach an agreement that will further restrict North Korea’s access.”
Russel said the US government looked at North Korean banking activity “with a view to shutting down anything that might contribute to illicit programs”.