SEOUL – Washington and Seoul postponed talks on deploying an advanced missile-defense system opposed by Beijing as China’s foreign minister prepared to fly to the U.S. for talks about North Korea.
The allies had been set to sign an agreement Tuesday on setting up a joint working group to look into the roll-out of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence System (THAAD) against North Korea’s growing missile threat.
“The related accord is in the final stages but has been postponed by a day or two because of last-minute negotiations,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said.
The THAAD system sends interceptors smashing into enemy missiles at high altitudes, even above the Earth’s atmosphere.
The interceptor rockets carry no warhead, relying instead on kinetic energy to destroy the target.
More than two weeks ago, the allies announced their intention to begin talks deploying THAAD following Pyongyang’s long-range ballistic missile launch on February 7, but negotiations to launch the Joint Working Group were protracted.
The delay came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was set to visit Washington from Tuesday to meet his U.S. counterpart John Kerry for possible talks over THAAD and North Korea.
China opposes the proposed deployment, with Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying warning Monday that it should not be used as a front to “undermine China’s own legitimate interests.”
South Korea’s Defense Ministry reiterated Tuesday that the U.S. missile defense system only targets North Korea and that its deployment is a matter for the two allies to decide.
The ministry said it expects official talks on THAAD to kick off next week once the two sides set up the joint working group later this week.