A top Trump administration official said Wednesday that the US will wait for congressional approval before launching a missile defense network that would cover about the same area as the one in North Korea.
“We will wait to go forward until we see that we have a congressional mandate for that,” Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke told reporters in Washington, DC, after the Pentagon approved a plan that calls for four launchers each to be stationed in Japan and South Korea, where the US is trying to beef up its defenses against North Korean ballistic missiles.
“If we need to deploy that missile defense, we’re going to do it,” she said.
Trump administration officials have said they are planning to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Japan in 2017.
The US is working on an initial $1.7 billion missile defense plan, which Duke said would “ensure the safety of the United States and its allies.”
But a senior White House official said Thursday that the White House would not be ready to move forward on a deployment of THAAD in 2017 “until Congress has a chance to take action.”
“The administration will not be committing to deployment of the THAAMD in 2017,” the official said.
“Our goal is to have it operational in 2021, but there is no timeline on that right now.”
“We’re continuing to work through that process.”
The official said the White, House and Defense Department are “working together” on a missile system to protect the US and its alliances.
“This system is designed to protect us and our allies, and our ability to defend ourselves,” the White said, referring to THAAd.
Duke’s comments came amid concerns that the administration was planning to abandon the “precaptionary pause” imposed by the Obama administration to allow the deployment of missile defense systems in the Korean peninsula, a major US ally in the region.
President Donald Trump has said he plans to deploy a THAADS system on Guam and in South Korea in 2017 and has promised that a missile shield will protect the country from any attack.
The move is being seen as a threat to Seoul and Washington, and Pyongyang has vowed to launch another missile on Guam.
North Korea has vowed it will attack Guam and South Korean territory with missiles fired from the country’s east coast, which the US has long denied.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for the “destruction” of Guam and the US mainland.
On Wednesday, North Korea warned it will conduct a third nuclear test if it cannot stop its nuclear weapons program.
It said the test would be “a great test of the supreme leadership” and the nation “will definitely give its full response to the United Nations in full force and fury.”
A THAATES system could potentially cover about 5,500 square kilometers (2,800 square miles), according to the Pentagon, which said its plans are being finalized.
South Korea has expressed concern that the deployment could harm its economy and security by increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The military would be responsible for monitoring the missile defense and launching the launchers in Japan.