S. Korea agrees to begin talks on US missile defense after North's rocket launch

© Lee Jae Won / Reuters
South Korea has agreed to start negotiations with the US on the possible deployment of a missile defense system on its territory, Seoul officials said.

The announcement of the possible deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) was made by Yoo Jeh-seung, South Korean deputy minister for policy at a meeting with Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal, the commander of USFK's Eighth Army.

"The US and South Korea have decided to start official discussions on the possibility of US Forces Korea's deployment of THAAD as part of measures to upgrade the South Korea-US alliance's missile defense position against North Korea's advancing threats," Yoo Jeh-seung said, as cited by the Yonhap news agency.

According to General Vandal, the decision to deploy THAAD was made on the recommendation of United States Forces Korea Commander General Curtis Scaparrotti.

“It’s time to move forward on the issue,” Vandal said.

The news comes hours after North Korea claimed it had successfully put an earth observation satellite into orbit.

The satellite was launched on a “carrier rocket” that blasted off from the Sohae Space Center in Cholsan County. The North Korean KCNA news agency said the satellite entered its preset orbit nine minutes and 46 seconds after lift-off at 9:09am Korean time.

The launch, however, triggered international concern as a potential long-range missile test. The North is banned from using ballistic missile technology under UN Security Council resolutions.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said: "North Korea has committed an unacceptable provocation by launching a long-range missile after conducting a fourth nuclear test.”

"The [UN] Security Council should quickly come up with strong sanctions," she added.

An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council is scheduled to take place later on Sunday to discuss the event. South Korean bodies are already convening emergency meetings at different levels. The UNSC has been working on sanctions against Pyongyang for its January nuclear test.

Seoul is also planning to expand anti-North propaganda loudspeaker broadcasts at the border, Yonhap added.

China said THAAD missile systems, should they be deployed in South Korea, are a serious threat to China's interests in the region, AP reported.

However, South Korea says the missiles will only be aimed north. "If THAAD is deployed to the Korean peninsula, it will be only operated against North Korea," Yoo Jeh-seung said, as cited by Reuters.

France and the UK have condemned North Korea’s rocket launch. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the missile test was a "clear and deliberate" violation of UN security council resolutions.

"I strongly condemn North Korea's ballistic missile technology test. This is a clear and deliberate violation of a number of UN Security Council resolutions. North Korea's actions continue to present a threat to regional and international security," Hammond said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the launch a “direct violation of five United Nations Security Council resolutions, which repeatedly call for North Korea to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme.”