BY REBECCA KHEEL
03/07/17 the Hill
The leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services committees are praising the start of the deployment of a missile defense system to South Korea, something they had long pushed for to protect against North Korea’s burgeoning missile program.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also swiped at China, which is staunchly opposed to the system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).
“Unfortunately yet predictably, China responded to the arrival of THAAD with vague threats against the United States and South Korea,” McCain said Tuesday in a statement. “But the reality is that this missile defense system is only necessary because China has aided and abetted North Korea for decades.”
Late Monday night, U.S. Pacific Command announced that the first parts of the system had arrived in South Korea, releasing video and photos showing off the arrival.
“Continued provocative actions by North Korea, to include yesterday’s launch of multiple missiles, only confirm the prudence of our alliance decision last year to deploy THAAD to South Korea,” Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said in a statement. “We will resolutely honor our alliance commitments to South Korea and stand ready to defend ourselves, the American homeland and our allies.”
The deployment comes after North Korea’s most recent missile test Monday, which saw the country launch four ballistic missiles in what Pyongyang says was practice to hit U.S. military bases in Japan.
The United States and South Korea agreed to deploy the system in July, after five months of negotiations. But deployment has been slow in the face of strong opposition from China.
Beijing fears the system’s powerful radars could be trained on China, though Washington and Seoul insist the system is purely defensive and is being deployed exclusively because of the threat posed by North Korea.
In his statement, McCain said the beginning of the deployment is a “positive step.”
“These latest provocative actions by North Korea demonstrate the wisdom and necessity of last year’s alliance decision to deploy THAAD to South Korea,” he added.
McCain also said if China is worried about THAAD, it should reign in North Korea.
“If China has genuine concerns about the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, it should cease its attempts to undermine South Korea’s sovereign ability to defend itself and use its considerable influence to pressure North Korea to stop its destabilizing behavior,” he said.
McCain’s House counterpart, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) called the deployment the “right immediate step.”
“North Korea’s recent missile launches and advancing nuclear weapons programs represent a clear and present threat to our national security,” he said in a statement “The U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system to the Korean Peninsula is the right immediate step to enhance our regional defenses against North Korea.
“This defensive system deployment further demonstrates our alliance commitments to South Korea and Japan.”