WASHINGTON – 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 U.S. official said 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 international banking infrastructure after its recent nuclear and missile tests.
Russel told the Asia Pacific subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee the exact timing of the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was a matter for the Pentagon.
But he 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 said last week that THAAD deployment was not negotiable as part of efforts to agree on new U.N. sanctions on North Korea after its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 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 U.N. measures.
Russel said China shared concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program and there had been a vast improvement in cooperation on sanctions, even though there was “an awful lot more” Beijing needed to do to tighten them.
He said there had been “a very constructive and honest candid set of ongoing conversations” with China on new U.N. sanctions and added: “I hope you will see, as one of the products of that, real headway in the discussions.”
Asked 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: “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.”
Russel said in prepared testimony the United States and its allies Japan and South Korea had been working to cut off North Korean revenue streams from coal and overseas workers and were considering further joint action.
Russel said the three countries had been making progress in key areas, including disrupting North Korea’s arms trade and de-flagging North Korean ships.
“We’re focusing our efforts on cutting off sources of revenue for the regime’s unlawful nuclear and ballistic weapons programs, including revenue generated through the coal trade and overseas by North Korean workers,” Russel said.
“Our three countries will continue to increase the costs on North Korea and target its revenue and reputation until it makes a strategic decision to return to serious talks on denuclearization and complies with its international obligations and commitments,” he added.
On Monday, the United States said it had sanctioned a Chinese industrial machinery and equipment wholesaler for using front companies to evade sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
China, North Korea’s main ally and neighbor, has been angered by North Korea’s nuclear tests and has said it will work within the United Nations to formulate a necessary response.
However, China said on Tuesday it was opposed to any country using its own laws to carry out “long-arm jurisdiction.”
North Korea’s former Cold War allies have responded to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests by kicking out North Korean workers and ending visa-free travel for its citizens, as well as by stripping flags of convenience from its ships.
A U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in March following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January exempted North Korean exports of coal and some other minerals for “livelihood purposes” from a trade ban, which was seen as a loophole that would be difficult monitor.