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(LEAD) THAAD to 'dramatically' enhance capacity to counter NK threat: defense chief

All News 00:47 June 07, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS details throughout)

WASHINGTON/SEOUL, June 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's defense chief said the possible deployment of a U.S. advanced missile defense system to South Korean soil will help "dramatically" enhance Seoul's capacity to counter North Korea's missile threats.

Seoul and Washington have been discussing the potential deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in the South, where about 28,500 American troops are stationed, in an effort to better defend against growing missile threats from the communist nation.

"South Korea only has the capacity to intercept missiles at its terminal phase. So we have limitations. If THAAD is deployed to U.S. forces in Korea, our capability will be dramatically enhanced. There are definite military benefits to this," Defense Minister Han Min-koo said in an interview with CNN.

Han spoke in Singapore, where he attended the annual regional defense ministers' meeting. The so-called Shangri-La Dialogue highlighted a deepening row between South Korea and China over THAAD as China has explicitly expressed its opposition to Washington's move to deploy it to the South.

Han said the North has sharply increased missile tests since leader Kim Jong-un came to power, conducting 25 tests in his four-year rule, compared with 18 tests carried out when his father and late leader Kim Jong-un was in power for 18 years.

"We assess Kim Jong-un is still in the process of establishing his leadership and influence," Han said.

The minister also said the North's leader is "rash" and "impulsive."

"Kim Jong-un was just 27 when he came to power with very little time to prepare. Add to that, he's very young. He lacks experience and he has a rash and impulsive character. We are very concerned," he said.

Han said South Korea believes the North's nuclear warhead miniaturization capability has advanced to a great degree, but added that there is no solid evidence that the North has actually achieved it.

Asked whether he believes the North is capable of putting a nuclear warhead on to a missile, Han said, "At this point, our assessment is we don't believe they can."

Should North Korea continue to make progress in its miniaturization technology, however, Han said that it may be possible for the North to deliver it "in other ways, such as an artillery shell or in the form of a nuclear mine."

Han stressed that South Korea, the U.S. and the international community won't recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons state, and underscored the importance of keeping pressure on the North and implement sanctions to make it give up its nuclear weapons program.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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