The second North Korean test launch of an ICBM within four weeks should convince South Korea to allow deployment of a full THAAD anti-missile battery, the Pentagon said Monday.
South Korea has permitted the U.S. Army to install two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense launchers on a former golf course south of Seoul, but South Korean President Moon Jae-in has delayed placement of a full battery of six launchers pending an environmental study that has no timeline.
The Pentagon maintained that North Korea's test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile last Friday, following on a similar test launch July 4, had altered the security calculus on the peninsula and made the case for immediate deployment of the full THAAD battery.
"A lot of people question the need for THAAD; they question the requirement for us," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, told defense reporters Monday. "But the North Koreans are being far better spokespeople on that than we're capable of. They're making the case for us rather effectively."
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"We have gotten that to an initial missile defense ability just within the past few months," he said, and "we are certainly ready to bring additional pieces in as quickly as we can."
THAAD was not designed for the ICBM threat, but its hit-to-kill system is seen as a vital deterrent to North Korea's arsenal of short and intermediate-range missiles.
China and Russia have vehemently opposed THAAD's deployment in South Korea because of its powerful radars, which they fear could monitor their own military activities in the region.
President Donald Trump has used Twitter to criticize China in recent days for failing to use its economic leverage to rein in North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took a different tack Tuesday.
"We certainly don't blame the Chinese for the situation in North Korea," Tillerson told State Department reporters. "Only the North Koreans are to blame for this situation."
Surprisingly, Tillerson also said the U.S. is open to talks with North Korea to ease tensions on the peninsula, mirroring the position of South Korea's Moon.
"We are trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy, we are not your threat, but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond," he said.
"And we hope that at some point, they would begin to understand that and then we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek and the future economic prosperity for North Korea," Tillerson said.
However, the White House later made clear that North Korea would have to give up its nuclear ambitions first. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the only path for North Korea is to "stop the nuclear programs, stop the missiles, stop the aggression."
There were no immediate signs that Kim Jong-un is ready to back off on developing an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead.
The official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that Kim viewed the latest ICBM test launch with "great satisfaction."
North Korea's Foreign Ministry also warned the U.S. against responding with additional sanctions or military action, according to a statement released by KCNA.
"In case the U.S. fails to come to its own senses and continues to resort to military adventure and tough sanctions, [North Korea] will respond with its resolute act of justice as already declared," the statement said.