(AA) – South Korean President Park Geun-hye should make missile defense a top priority when she holds mid-June talks with her United States counterpart Barack Obama, a leading member of Seoul’s ruling party urged Tuesday.
Saenuri Floor Leader Yoo Seong-min’s call came a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry publicly spoke for the first time of Washington’s push to deploy THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in South Korea.
North Korea’s growing missile capabilities dominated Kerry’s two-day visit to Seoul, but it was not until the secretary visited the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters in Yongsan that he mentioned THAAD by name.
The missile defense system has drawn opposition from some lawmakers in Seoul, as well as China and Russia, amid cost concerns and worries over Washington’s growing influence given the presence of nearly 30,000 American military personnel on the Korean Peninsula.
Political momentum has been building for supporters of THAAD, however, in light of Pyongyang’s recent claim to have successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine.
“The South Korea-U.S. alliance can react to such North Korean threats effectively only after they act more closely than ever to construct the best-fitting missile defense in the shortest time possible,” Yoo said at a party meeting, according to local news agency Yonhap.
It was a clear message to Park, who is set to meet Obama in Washington in the middle of next month, as the government has refused to admit to holding an official dialogue with the U.S. on the THAAD issue.
Yoo described Seoul’s position as “not normal” considering the two sides’ alliance.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s defense ministry rejected a report from Japan claiming that North Korea was preparing to launch a rocket carrying a satellite this October in honor of the nation’s 70th anniversary.
Despite fears that Pyongyang could be effectively on the verge of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, a ministry spokesperson told a media briefing that they have not yet confirmed “any specific signs of movements.”
But the country’s Navy did announce the start of a firing drill in waters off South Korea’s east coast Tuesday, to better protect “against possible provocations by North Korea.”
Last week, the North also conducted military exercises close to the inter-Korean border on the western side of the peninsula, nearby a series of past acts of aggression — including the sinking of the South’s Cheonan vessel in 2010, which claimed 46 lives.