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U.S., South Korea to Deploy THAAD Missile Defense Over North Korea

SEOUL - The United States and South Korea said Friday they had decided to deploy an advanced missile defense system to counter North Korea's missile threat.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system will be deployed solely to counter the threat from the North, the South's Defence Ministry and the U.S. Defense Department said in a joint statement.

China reacted angrily, lodging protests with the American and South Korean ambassadors. It has supported sanctions on North Korea but objects to the THAAD deployment because the system's radar can reach into its territory.

Image: South Korean Defense Ministry's Deputy Minister Yoo Jeh-seung shakes hands with the commander of U.S. Forces Korea
South Korean Defense Ministry's Deputy Minister Yoo Jeh-seung shakes hands with the commander of U.S. Forces Korea's Eighth Army Lieutenant General Thomas Vandal Friday. STRINGER / Reuters

South Korea said it aims for a deployment "soon". The Yonhap news agency said the system was expected to be in operation by the end of 2017 at the latest, citing the South's defense ministry.

"South Korea and the United States made an alliance decision to deploy THAAD to USFK as a defensive measure to ensure the security of the South and its people, and to protect alliance military forces from North Korea's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threats," the joint statement said.

USFK stands for U.S. Forces Korea, which includes 28,500 U.S. troops based in South Korea.

"When the THAAD system is deployed to the Korean Peninsula, it will be focused solely on North Korean nuclear and missile threats and would not be directed towards any third party nations," the statement said.

A joint South Korea-U.S. working groups is preparing to determine the best location for deploying THAAD, according to the joint statement.

Image: US-MILITARY-DEFENSE-THAAD
A US Department of Defense handout photo shows two THAAD interceptors and a Standard-Missile 3 Block IA missile during a test in 2013. HANDOUT / AFP - Getty Images

The move comes after a North Korean rocket launch in February put an object into space orbit. That was condemned by the U.N. Security Council as a test of a long-range missile in disguise, which the North is prohibited from doing under several Security Council resolutions.

North Korea rejects the ban, saying it is an infringement on its sovereignty and its right to space exploration.