South Korea has changed course to allow deployment of a full THAAD anti-missile battery south of Seoul to counter the growing threat from North Korea, the Pentagon said Friday.
New South Korean President Moon Jae-in had held up placement of a full battery of six THAAD launchers after two launchers were installed.
Moon said the full battery would be kept on hold pending an environmental review, but South Korean officials said Thursday that the THAAD placement and the environmental review would be conducted simultaneously.
"The conclusion of the small-scale environmental effect assessment and the initiation of temporary deployment are not in a cause-and-effect relationship," Moon Sang-gyun, spokesman at the Ministry of National Defense, said Thursday. "They will go separately."
He added, "The deployment of four additional THAAD launchers will be pursued after consultations are done between South Korea and the U.S," South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said there is no timeline for the deployment of the full Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system battery, but the U.S. Army in South Korea is ready to proceed immediately.
The placement of the THAAD system on a former golf course in the Seongju area, about 185 miles south of Seoul, triggered protests from local residents who feared they could become targets in the event of conflict with North Korea.
However, the deployment took on urgency last month when North Korea test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the U.S. mainland for the second time in four weeks.
THAAD was not designed to intercept ICBMs but has achieved a high success rate in tests against short- and intermediate-range missiles. The system has never been used in combat.
North Korea's missile tests were a factor in the move by Congress to pass by veto-proof margins a bill imposing additional sanctions on North Korea, Russia and Iran.
President Donald Trump reluctantly signed the bill earlier this week while complaining that it was an unwarranted intrusion on the powers of the executive branch to conduct foreign policy.
North Korea dismissed the latest sanctions effort as a meaningless attempt to derail the drive by leader Kim Jong-un to make North Korea a nuclear power.
In an interview Wednesday with the North's Korean Central News Agency, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said, "The U.S. adoption of sanctions law against the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] is no more than last-ditch efforts by those who are terrified at the series of measures taken by the DPRK in rapid succession to develop a sophisticated nuclear force."