South Korea says it plans to hold formal talks with Washington on the deployment of a US missile system on the Korean peninsula. The announcement comes after North Korea launched a long-range rocket, sparking outrage.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said Sunday the growing threat of North Korea's weapons capabilities had forced Seoul to move ahead with discussions on the possibility of installing an advanced missile system.
"The Korea-US alliance had no choice but to take such a defense action because North Korea staged a strategic provocation and is refusing to have a genuine dialogue on de-nuclearization," ministry official Yoo Jeh Seung said.
US officials have previously said the sophisticated system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), was needed in South Korea. China and Russia oppose setting up such a system, arguing that such a move could trigger an arms race in the region. But Yoo stressed that THAAD, if deployed to the Korean Peninsula, would "be only operated against North Korea."
Outrage over rocket launch
Earlier on Sunday, North Korea launched a rocket carrying what it said was an observation satellite into orbit. The move sparked global condemnation from the US and its allies in the region, who have denounced the launch as a cover to test a ballistic missile. UN Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea from test-firing ballistic rockets.
The Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting later in the day to discuss the launch.
A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Pyongyang's actions "deeply deplorable." US Secretary of State John Kerry said the launch was a destabilizing and unacceptable challenge to peace, while France called for a "rapid and tough response from the international community."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused North Korea of "putting regional security on the line" with its "irresponsible provocation."
Pyongyang's main ally, China, expressed "regret" that the North had disregarded opposition from the international community and "obstinately insisted in carrying out a launch by using ballistic missile technologies."
Those statements were echoed by Russia's Foreign Ministry, which warned such actions could not but provoke a "decisive protest," leading to "a serious aggravation of the situation on the Korean peninsula."
Launch a 'complete success'
North Korea launched its rocket at around 9:30 a.m. local time (0030 UTC) in a southward trajectory. US authorities confirmed the launch, but said they did not believe it posed a threat to the US or its allies.
Pyongyang declared the event a "complete success," saying its satellite Kwangmyongsong-4 was now making a polar orbit of the earth every 94 minutes. While North Korea insists its space program is purely peaceful, the US and South Korea say the reclusive communist state aims to develop a nuclear warhead to mount on a missile. Many experts say it will be some time before Pyongyang manages to perfect such technology.
nm/tj (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)