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(LEAD) USFK chief: THAAD is about weakening Kim Jong-un's leverage

All Headlines 15:17 May 25, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATE throughout with more comments, details; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo, byline)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, May 25 (Yonhap) -- The early deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea is a critical part of efforts to lessen North Korea's leverage from asymmetric weapons, the top American military commander here said Thursday.

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who leads the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), said a "very dangerous situation" is looming over the peninsula.

He cited a rising set of provocations by the North, which include ballistic missile launches, nuclear and cyber activities, as the leverage leader Kim Jong-un has in holding South Korea and neighboring countries at risk,

The commander stressed the need to "take that risk away without taking his systems away."

"I am not suggesting that we allow him to keep his weapons," he said, delivering a keynote speech at a security forum in Seoul. "We have to actually address the vulnerabilities we have here in the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and find ways to lessen that vulnerability."

In particular, he said, THAAD has provided the allies with a critical and unprecedented "area defense" against the nuclear-armed North's ballistic missiles.

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who leads the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), salutes during a security seminar in Seoul on May 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

"This is all about North Korean missiles and the threat that North Korean missiles pose to the Republic of Korea, and it's for the defense of the Republic of Korea and nothing else," Brooks said.

His remarks came at a sensitive time regarding the future of the THAAD system in operational deployment in a rural region some 290km southeast of Seoul.

Concern has grown that the South's new liberal administration of Moon Jae-in may send back the THAAD unit. While on the campaign trail, Moon said his predecessor Park Geun-hye made the decision with no democratic procedures. He wants to review the THAAD issue through consultations with the National Assembly.

China, a key regional security player and Seoul's top trading partner, also strongly opposes the deployment of THAAD here, regarding it as undermining Beijing's security interests.

Brooks, who also serves as commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, said THAAD in South Korea is an "example" of the U.S. security commitment and their ironclad alliance.

As the USFK commander, he added, he's confident of support from the Pentagon.

For instance, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff led by Gen. Joseph Dunford and Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the Pacific Command, are "very responsive" to his request for reinforcement of forces or other help.

The U.S. has 28,500 troops in Korea on a standing basis and the number reaches as high as 40,000 if regular rotational troops and additional forces for combined defense drills are counted, he said.

Speaking apparently in his capacity as the commander of the United Nations Command, meanwhile, Brooks proposed the simplification of the way the U.N. sending states participate in the "deterrence structures" on the peninsula such as joint exercises and other events.

lcd@yna.co.kr
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