(ATTN: UPDATES with inaugural meeting in lead, para 2-7)
SEOUL, March 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States officially launched a joint working group Friday to discuss the possible deployment of an advanced anti-ballistic missile shield in the Northeast Asian country in defense against North Korea's increasing security threats, the Defense Ministry here said.
The joint group held their inaugural meeting at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul earlier in the day to discuss how militarily effective it will be if the U.S.-built Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, is brought into South Korea, the ministry said in a statement.
The working-level body will also discuss an array of other relevant issues such as appropriate sites for the deployment, timeline, cost-sharing and safety and environmental impact down the road, according to the ministry.
General Maj. Gen. Jang Kyung-soo represented Seoul while Washington sent U.S. Forces Korea Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund as its top official.
"The South Korean and the U.S. sides will discuss the feasibility of deploying THAAD which will be operated by the USFK," according to the defense ministry here.
After years of speculation over the local deployment of THAAD, the allies announced last month that they will start discussing the U.S.-proposed deployment of the anti-ballistic missile interceptor in South Korea to better counter North Korea's growing missile threats.
Friday's official talks were launched after the two sides signed terms of reference in forming the joint working group on the same day.
"North Korea has continued its nuclear tests and long-range missile provocations and defied South Korea and the international community's deterrence efforts," the ministry said on the background of the deployment talks.
"The THAAD system to be operated by USFK will contribute to the defense of South Korea from North Korea's increasing nuclear and missile threats," it also said.
North Korea demonstrated its growing nuclear and missile capabilities with its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, which the communist country said was of a hydrogen bomb.
On Feb. 7, it launched a long-range rocket to put a satellite into orbit, but the outside world regarded it as a cover for testing its intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
The allies unveiled the deployment plan hours after the latest North Korean long-range rocket launch last month.
The military has said the allies are seeking to deploy one THAAD battery "at the earliest time possible," which is made up of a fire control unit, high-tech radar, six mobile launchers and 48 interceptor missiles.
Inside South Korea, the deployment is highly controversial.
Tentative candidate cities for hosting the defense system voiced opposition to deploying it to their neighborhoods, citing safety concerns involving electromagnetic wave emissions from the radar.
China has shown explicit irritation over the missile interceptor to be operated by U.S. forces in South Korea, which they say could spy on China's military posture.
The allies had postponed the joint working group's launch, which was initially set for Feb. 23.
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