Erdogan says Turkey to turn elsewhere if U.S. will not sell F-35s

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey, July 26, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey would turn elsewhere for fighter jets if the United States will not sell it the F-35 jets, adding that a U.S. decision to cut Ankara from the program would not deter it from meeting its needs.

The United States said last week it was removing NATO ally Turkey from the F-35 program, as long threatened, after Ankara purchased and received delivery of Russian S-400 missile defenses that Washington sees as a threat.

Washington has also threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey, though Ankara has dismissed the warnings. It has instead put its trust in sympathetic comments from U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said that Turkey was treated “unfairly”. However, Trump has not ruled out sanctions on Turkey.

Erdogan, speaking publicly about the strained U.S. ties for the first time in 11 days, said he hoped U.S. officials would be “reasonable” on the question of sanctions, adding that Turkey may also reconsider its purchase of advanced Boeing aircraft from the United States.

“Are you not giving us the F-35s? Okay, then excuse us but we will once again have to take measures on that matter as well and we will turn elsewhere,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.

“Even if we’re not getting F-35s, we are buying 100 advanced Boeing aircraft, the agreement is signed… At the moment, one of the Boeing planes has arrived and we are making the payments, we are good customers,” he said. “But, if things continue like this, we will have to reconsider this.”

Russia’s Rostec state conglomerate said Russia would be ready to supply its SU-35 jets to Turkey if Ankara requested them. But, Turkish officials said on Thursday there were no talks with Moscow on alternatives to the F-35 jets for now.

Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues. Turkey has also been infuriated with U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, a main U.S. ally in the region that Ankara sees as a terrorist organization.

Ankara has warned that it would launch a military operation in northern Syria to wipe out the YPG if it could not agree with Washington on the planned safe zone in the region, saying it had run “out of patience.”

However, Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey is determined to destroy the “terror corridor” east of the Euphrates river in Syria no matter how talks on the safe zone conclude, as Ankara ramped up its threats of an offensive.

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

North Korea called ‘extraordinary threat’ in Trump missile defense review

FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental ballistic missiles are seen at a grand military parade celebrating the 70th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) February 9, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is due to unveil a revamped missile defense strategy on Thursday that singles out North Korea as an ongoing “extraordinary threat,” seven months after he declared that the nuclear threat had been eliminated.

“While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, it continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the United States must remain vigilant,” the report said in its executive summary, which was reviewed by Reuters ahead of its release on Thursday.

The Missile Defense Review is a sweeping examination of efforts to shield America from missile threats. It singles out concerns about advancing capabilities by North Korea, Iran, Russia and China.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish)

U.S., Turkey agree to try to resolve disputes after relations dive

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Subang, Malaysia August 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

By David Brunnstrom

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed on Friday to try to resolve a series of disputes, after relations between the NATO allies sank to their lowest point in decades.

Their meeting in Singapore followed Washington’s imposition on Wednesday of sanctions on two Turkish ministers over the case of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor on trial in Turkey for backing terrorism.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described their conversation on the sidelines of a regional ministers’ meeting as constructive. “They agreed to continue to try to resolve the issues between our two countries,” she said.

Cavusoglu said he had repeated Turkey’s message that “the threatening language and sanctions does not achieve anything”, but added that he and Pompeo would take steps to resolve their differences when they returned home.

“Of course you can’t expect all issues to be resolved in a single meeting,” he told Turkish television channels. “But we have agreed to work together, closely cooperate and keep the dialogue in the coming period,” he added, also describing the talks as very constructive.

Washington imposed sanctions on Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, accusing them of playing leading roles in organizations responsible for the arrest and detention of Brunson, an evangelical Christian who has lived in Turkey for more than two decades. The move sent the Turkish lira to record low.

Within hours Turkey vowed to retaliate ‘without delay’ but since then the tone of comments from Ankara has moderated and so far it has taken no such step. Finance minister Berat Albayrak, who is President Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, also said relations with the United States would never break down, despite the temporary escalation.

Pompeo told reporters the United States had put Turkey on notice “that the clock had run and it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned”.

“I hope they’ll see this for what it is, a demonstration that we’re very serious,” he said of the sanctions. “We consider this one of the many issues that we have with the Turks.”

“Brunson needs to come home. As do all the Americans being held by the Turkish government. Pretty straightforward. They’ve been holding these folks for a long time. These are innocent people,” he said. “We are going to work to see if we can find a way forward; I am hopeful that we can.”

The United States has also been seeking the release of three locally employed embassy staff detained in Turkey.

ATTEMPTED COUP

Brunson is charged with supporting a group Ankara blames for orchestrating an attempted coup in 2016. He denies the charges but faces up to 35 years in jail.

He was accused of helping supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric who Turkish authorities say masterminded the coup attempt in which 250 people were killed. He was also charged with supporting outlawed Kurdish PKK militants. Gulen denies the allegations.

Turkey has been trying to have Gulen extradited from the United States for two years.

Finance Minister Albayrak said on Thursday the sanctions would have a limited impact on the Turkish economy, although investors’ deepening concern over ties with the United States, also a major trading partner, sent the lira to record lows.

On Friday, the currency fell to 5.1140 against the dollar. The sell-off also hammered Turkish stocks and debt risk profile.

Brunson was in a Turkish prison for 21 months until he was transferred to house arrest last week. On Tuesday, a court rejected his appeal to be released altogether during his trial.

Washington and Ankara are also at odds over the Syrian war, Turkey’s plan to buy missile defenses from Russia and the U.S. conviction of a Turkish state bank executive on Iran sanctions-busting charges this year.

Brunson’s case has resonated with President Donald Trump and particularly with Vice President Mike Pence, who has close ties to evangelical Christians. Pence has been pressing behind the scenes for action, aides said.

(Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Editing by Nick Macfie, Paul Tait and David Stamp)

South Korea defense ministry ‘intentionally dropped’ THAAD units in report: Blue House

FILE PHOTO: A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency. U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s Defence Ministry “intentionally dropped” mentioning that four more launchers had been deployed for the controversial U.S. THAAD anti-missile system in a report to President Moon Jae-in’s top aides, his office said on Wednesday.

Moon has ordered a probe at the defense ministry, saying it was “very shocking” the launchers had been brought in without being reported to the new government or to the public, presidential Blue House spokesman Yoon Young-chan said on Tuesday.

The Defence Ministry intentionally omitted details about the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system battery (THAAD) in a report last week, when the new government was preparing for Moon’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump next month, Yoon told a briefing.

“The Blue House has confirmed that the Defence Ministry has intentionally dropped the introduction of four more launchers in its report,” Yoon said.

Moon took office on May 10 without a transition period because a snap presidential election was held just two months after his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, was ousted in a corruption scandal. Moon inherited his defense minister along with the rest of his cabinet from the previous administration.

The THAAD battery was initially deployed in March in the southeastern region of Seongju with just two of its maximum load of six launchers to counter a growing North Korean missile threat.

An earlier version of the defense ministry report specified the total number of launchers being prepared for deployment and the name of the U.S. military base where the four were being kept, but the reference was removed in the final version delivered to the Blue House, Yoon said.

The Pentagon said it had been “very transparent” with South Korea’s government about THAAD deployment.

US MISSILE DEFENSE TEST

During his successful presidential campaign, Moon called for a parliamentary review of the THAAD system, the deployment of which has infuriated China, North Korea’s lone major ally. Moon had also called for more engagement and dialogue with Pyongyang.

Asked about South Korea’s Defence Ministry dropping mention of the four additional launchers, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed “serious concern”, and reiterated a call for THAAD to be withdrawn.

North Korea has conducted three ballistic missile tests since Moon took office, maintaining its accelerated pace of missile and nuclear-related activities since the beginning of last year in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

In Washington, the U.S. military said on Tuesday it had staged a successful, first-ever missile defense test involving a simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“The intercept of a complex, threat-representative ICBM target is an incredible accomplishment … a critical milestone for this program,” Vice Admiral Jim Syring, the director of the Missile Defence Agency, said in a statement.

Moon’s order of a probe over the THAAD deployment came amid signs of easing tensions between South Korea and China, a major trading partner.

China had been incensed over the THAAD deployment, saying it would do little to deter the missile threat from North Korea while allowing the U.S. military to use its radar to look deep into its territory and at its own missile systems.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told China’s top diplomat on Wednesday that he would like to work with China to try to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Beijing is also troubled by the possibility the THAAD system would open the door to a wider deployment the U.S. missile defense systems, possibly in Japan and elsewhere, military analysts say.

South Korean companies have faced product boycotts and bans on Chinese tourists visiting South Korea, although China has denied discriminating against them.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Pentagon successfully tests ICBM defense system for first time

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system launches during a flight test from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, U.S., May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Phil Stewart and Lucy Nicholson

WASHINGTON/VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (Reuters) – The U.S. military on Tuesday cheered a successful, first-ever missile defense test involving a simulated attack by an intercontinental ballistic missile, in a major milestone for a program meant to defend against a mounting North Korean threat.

The U.S. military fired an ICBM-type missile from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands toward the waters just south of Alaska. It then fired a missile to intercept it from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Experts compare the job to hitting a bullet with another bullet and note the complexity is magnified by the enormous distances involved.

The Missile Defense Agency said it was the first live-fire test against a simulated ICBM for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), managed by Boeing Co <BA.N>, and hailed it as an “incredible accomplishment.”

“This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” Vice Admiral Jim Syring, director of the agency, said in a statement.

A successful test was by no means guaranteed and the Pentagon sought to manage expectations earlier in the day, noting that the United States had multiple ways to try to shoot down a missile from North Korea.

“This is one element of a broader missile defense strategy that we can use to employ against potential threats,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

Prior to Tuesday’s launch, the GMD system had successfully hit its target in only nine of 17 tests since 1999. The last test was in 2014.

North Korea has dramatically ramped up missile tests over the past year in its effort to develop an ICBM that can strike the U.S. mainland.

The continental United States is around 9,000 km (5,500 miles) from North Korea. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 5,500 km (3,400 miles), but some are designed to travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles) or farther.

Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, described the test as “vital” prior to launch.

“We are replicating our ability to defend the United States of America from North Korea, today,” Ellison said.

Failure could have deepened concern about a program that according to one estimate has so far cost more than $40 billion. Its success could translate into calls by Congress to speed development.

In the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal sent to Congress last week, the Pentagon requested $7.9 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, including about $1.5 billion for the GMD program.

A 2016 assessment released by the Pentagon’s weapons testing office in January said that U.S. ground-based interceptors meant to knock out any incoming ICBM still had low reliability, giving the system a limited capability of shielding the United States.

(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and James Dalgleish)

Exclusive: U.S., Japanese firms collaborating on new missile defense radars – sources

FILE PHOTO: Logos of Mitsubishi Electric Corp are seen at a news conference at the company's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

By Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo

TOKYO (Reuters) – Raytheon Co and Lockheed Martin Corp are working with Japanese partners on rival projects to develop new radars that will enhance Japan’s shield against any North Korean missile strike, government and defense industry sources in Tokyo told Reuters.

As nuclear-armed Pyongyang builds ever more advanced missiles with the ability to strike anywhere in Japan, Tokyo is likely to fund a ground version of the ship-based Aegis defense system deployed on warships in the Sea of Japan, other sources had said earlier.

Raytheon is allied with Mitsubishi Electric Corp on the project while Lockheed is working with Fujitsu Ltd. The intent is to extend the range of Japan’s detection and targeting radars multiple times beyond range of models currently deployed at sea, the five government and industry sources said.

“Japan’s government is very interested in acquiring this capability,” said one of the sources with knowledge of the radar plans. The sources asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

“Japan wants to have Aegis Ashore operational by 2023 at the latest,” said another of the sources.

Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Mitsubishi Electric declined comment, while Fujitsu did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for Japan’s Ministry of Defense said Tokyo did not currently have any concrete plans to collaborate with the United States on Aegis radars. “It is not our place to discuss the activities of corporations,” the spokesman added.

The proposed Aegis Ashore radars would be variants of models already developed by Raytheon and Lockheed, the sources said. They would include components using gallium nitride, an advanced material fabricated separately by Mitsubishi Electric and Fujitsu that can amplify power far more efficiently than conventional silicon-based semiconductors.

Nuclear-capable North Korea has a fast accelerating missile development program and Japanese officials have been worried that its ballistic missile defenses (BMD) could be overwhelmed by swarm attacks or be circumvented by warheads launched on lofted trajectories.

In the latest snub to demands it end its weapons program, North Korea on Sunday fired what it described as a intermediate-range ballistic missile that flew about 500 km (311 miles), falling into waters off its east coast.

It had tested another missile the previous Sunday. North Korea said that launch tested the capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead” and put the U.S. mainland within “sighting range.”

Japan would likely need three Aegis Ashore batteries to cover the whole country, each of which would cost around $700 million without missiles, one of the sources said.

EXPORT

The idea is that such systems could eventually be sold to the U.S. or other militaries, representing a second chance for Japan to break into global arms markets after a failed bid last year to sell Australia a fleet of submarines in what Tokyo had hoped would spur military exports.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended a decades-old ban on arms exports in 2014 to help beef up the nation’s military and lower the unit cost of home-built military equipment but Japan’s long-isolated defense companies have so far had scant success winning business overseas.

“Rather than a fully engineered submarine or other platform, the best way Japan can win export deals is to get Japanese components and technology integrated into U.S. equipment,” another of the sources said.

Japan is expected to make a final decision to acquire a ground-based Aegis system this year. It has also looked at buying THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), which would add a third layer of defense between Aegis and Japan’s last line of defense PAC-3 Patriot missiles, to counter the North Korean threat.

Each THAAD battery, which come with missiles already loaded, costs around $1 billion.

Using either THAAD or beefed up Aegis radars could, however, anger China, which is already upset that THAAD batteries recently deployed in South Korea can peer deep beyond its border.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

China welcomes U.S. saying it’s open to talks on North Korea

A military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) is seen in this handout photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on April 26, 2017. KCNA/Handout via REUTERS

By Michael Martina and Ju-min Park

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – China on Thursday welcomed an apparently softer tone by the United States on the North Korean nuclear and missile crisis but stressed its opposition to a U.S. missile defense system being deployed in South Korea.

China has long promoted dialogue to resolve the “Korean nuclear issue” as North Korea has repeatedly threatened to destroy the United States which in turn has warned that “all options are on the table” in ending North Korean provocations.

The Trump administration said on Wednesday it aimed to push North Korea into dismantling its nuclear and missile programs, which are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, through tougher international sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

“The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations toward that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies,” it said in a statement.

Asked about the U.S. comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had noted that many U.S. officials had recently made such remarks.

“We have noted these expressions, and have noted the message conveyed in these expressions hoping to resolve the Korean nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue and consultation,” he said.

“We believe this message is positive and should be affirmed.”

South Korea and the United States agreed on Thursday on “swift punitive measures” against North Korea in the event of further provocation. The South also said the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile defense system was moving ahead effectively a day after angry protests against the battery and fierce opposition from China.

South Korea on Wednesday moved parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to its deployment site on a golf course about 250 km (155 miles) south of the capital, Seoul, signaling a faster installation of the system.

Several hundred South Korean villagers protested near the site, hurling water bottles at vehicles moving the parts in.

CHINA AGAIN DENOUNCES THAAD

The top U.S. Commander in the Pacific, Admiral Harry Harris, said on Wednesday the THAAD system would be operational “in coming days” bolstering the ability to defend the U.S. ally and the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed there.

A photograph taken of the site showed a THAAD interceptor on the back of a mobile launcher erected and pointed skywards on green lawn as a military transport helicopter hovered nearby.

China says the system’s advanced radar can penetrate deep into its territory and undermine its security. It is adamant in its opposition.

“The deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea damages the regional strategic balance and stability. The Chinese side is resolutely opposed to this,” Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told reporters.

“China’s military will continue to carry out live-fire military exercises and test new military equipment in order to firmly safeguard national security and regional peace and stability.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats described North Korea on Wednesday as “an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority”.

The U.S. signal of a willingness to exhaust non-military avenues came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group approached Korean waters, where it will join the USS Michigan nuclear submarine.

North Korea, which conducted its biggest ever artillery exercise to mark the 85th anniversary of its military’s creation on Tuesday, says it needs to develop weapons to defend itself from U.S. aggression.

A North Korean official speaking on CNN said the country would not be influenced by outside events.

“As long as America continues its hostile acts of aggression, we will never stop nuclear and missile tests,” said Sok Chol Won, director of the North’s Institute of Human Rights at the Academy of Social Sciences.

Moon Jae-in, the front-runner in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election, has called for a delay in THAAD deployment, saying a decision should be made after gathering public opinion and more talks with Washington.

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in WASHINGTON and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Jack Kim and Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Commander says U.S. may need stronger defense against North Korea missiles

The Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, testifies before a House Armed Services Committee hearing on "Military Assessment of the Security Challenges in the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S, April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Phil Stewart and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. commander in the Pacific told Congress on Wednesday the United States may need to strengthen its missile defenses, particularly in Hawaii, given the advancing threat from North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Just before the entire U.S. Senate was due to receive a top-level briefing on North Korea at the White House, Admiral Harry Harris said he believed Pyongyang’s threats against the United States needed to be taken seriously.

Graphic – Carl Vinson strike group: http://tmsnrt.rs/2pqOMWA

Graphic – North Korea’s nuclear program: http://tmsnrt.rs/2n0gd92

Earlier on Wednesday, the U.S. military moved parts of an anti-missile defense system to a deployment site in South Korea, triggering protests from villagers and by China – whose help is vital to agreeing and implementing tougher economic sanctions to try to persuade North Korea to abandon its weapons programs.

North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting U.S. President Donald Trump. He has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile.

Harris told lawmakers the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system would be operational “in coming days.”

He said the defenses of Hawaii were sufficient for now but could one day be overwhelmed, and suggested studying stationing new radar there as well as interceptors to knock out any incoming North Korean missiles.

“I don’t share your confidence that North Korea is not going to attack either South Korea, or Japan, or the United States … once they have the capability,” Harris told one lawmaker.

Washington and Pyongyang have stepped up warnings to each other in recent weeks amid concerns that Pyongyang may soon conduct a sixth nuclear bomb test.

Washington has said all options are on the table, including military strikes, but officials have stressed that the current focus is on stepped-up sanctions on North Korea, which are expected to be discussed at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Harris’s testimony was the latest sobering reminder of growing U.S. alarm about North Korea. The country has yet to test a missile capable of reaching the United States, but experts say it could have the capability some time after 2020.

U.S. officials have warned that a conflict with North Korea could have a devastating effect on ally South Korea and U.S. troops based there, a point Pyongyang underscored by a big live-fire exercise on Tuesday to mark the foundation of its military.Harris conceded that North Korean retaliation to any U.S. strikes could cause many casualties in South Korea, but added that there was the risk “of a lot more Koreans and Japanese and Americans dying if North Korea achieves its nuclear aims and does what (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) has said it’s going to do.”

North Korea has vowed to strike the United States and its Asian allies at the first sign of any attack on its territory.

SHOW OF FORCE

In a show of force, the United States is sending the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula, where it will join the USS Michigan, a nuclear submarine that docked in South Korea on Tuesday. South Korea’s navy has said it will hold drills with the U.S. strike group.

Harris said the carrier was in the Philippine Sea, within two hours’ striking distance of North Korea if need be.

The earlier-than-expected steps to deploy the missile defense system were denounced both by China, where the foreign ministry vowed Beijing would “resolutely take necessary steps to defend its interests,” and the frontrunner in South Korea’s May 9 presidential election.

Moon Jae-in has called for a delay in the deployment, saying the new administration should make a decision after gathering public opinion and more talks with Washington.

A spokesman for Moon said moving the parts to the site “ignored public opinion and due process” and demanded the deployment be suspended.

Television footage showed military trailers carrying equipment, including what appeared to be launch canisters, to the battery site.

More than 10 protesters were injured in clashes with police, Kim Jong-kyung, a leader of villagers opposing the deployment, told Reuters. Kim said about 200 protesters who rallied overnight would keep up their opposition.

Beijing says the system’s advanced radar can penetrate deep into its territory and undermine its security, but Harris scoffed and suggested Beijing should focus on trying to influence North Korea.

In another move likely to irk China, Harris said he thought there would soon be more U.S. freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about $5 trillion worth of sea-borne goods pass every year, and has angrily protested previous U.S. operations there.

Harris sought to separate the issue from North Korea.

“We should encourage China and be appreciative of what they are doing with regards to North Korea and we should also be willing to criticize them for their aggressiveness and coerciveness in the South China Sea,” he said.

North Korea’s foreign ministry called U.S. attempts to make Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons through military threats and sanctions “a wild dream” and like “sweeping the sea with a broom”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged all sides to ease tensions and work toward a peaceful solution through negotiations.

“Security and stability is quite fragile and there is a great danger that a new conflict, or incidents could happen at any time,” he said.

U.S. officials say Washington sees no value in returning to international talks on North Korea until Pyongyang shows it is serious about denuclearization.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Phil Stewart, David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Clive McKeef and James Dalgleish)

As North Korea missile threat grows, Japan lawmakers argue for first strike options

Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers inject fuels into a unit of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo

TOKYO (Reuters) – Rattled by North Korean military advances, influential Japanese lawmakers are pushing harder for Japan to develop the ability to strike preemptively at the missile facilities of its nuclear-armed neighbor.

Japan has so far avoided taking the controversial and costly step of acquiring bombers or weapons such as cruise missiles with enough range to strike other countries, relying instead on its U.S. ally to take the fight to its enemies.

But the growing threat posed by Pyongyang, including Monday’s simultaneous launch of four rockets, is adding weight to an argument that aiming for the archer rather than his arrows is a more effective defense.

“If bombers attacked us or warships bombarded us, we would fire back. Striking a country lobbing missiles at us is no different,” said Itsunori Onodera, a former defense minister who heads a ruling Liberal Democratic Party committee looking at how Japan can defend against the North Korean missile threat. “Technology has advanced and the nature of conflict has changed.”

For decades, Japan has been stretching the limits of its post-war, pacifist constitution. Successive governments have said Tokyo has the right to attack enemy bases overseas when the enemy’s intention to attack Japan is evident, the threat is imminent and there are no other defense options.

But while previous administrations shied away from acquiring the hardware to do so, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP has been urging him to consider the step.

“It is time we acquired the capability,” said Hiroshi Imazu, the chairman of the LDP’s policy council on security. “I don’t know whether that would be with ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or even the F-35 (fighter bomber), but without a deterrence North Korea will see us as weak.”

The idea has faced stiff resistance in the past but the latest round of North Korean tests means Japan may move more swiftly to enact a tougher defense policy.

“We have already done the ground work on how we could acquire a strike capability,” said a source with knowledge of Japan’s military planning. He asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Any weapon Japan acquired with the reach to hit North Korea would also put parts of China’s eastern seaboard within range of Japanese munitions for the first time. That would likely anger Beijing, which is strongly protesting the deployment of the advanced U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea.

“China has missiles that can hit Japan, so any complaints it may have are not likely to garner much sympathy in the international community,” said Onodera.

GROWING THREATS

Currently, more than three missiles at one would be too many for Japan’s already stretched ballistic missile defense to cope with, another source familiar with Japan’s capability said.

One serious concern for Japan is North Korea’s development of solid fuel systems demonstrated last month that will allow it to conceal preparations for missile strikes because it no longer needs fuel its missiles just prior to firing.

That test also demonstrated a cold launch, with the rocket ejected from its launcher before engine ignition, minimizing damage to the mobile launch pads. Japanese officials also noted that the launch truck was equipped with tracks rather than wheels, allowing it to hide off road.

North Korea says its weapons are needed to defend against the threat of attack from the United States and South Korea, which it is still technically at war with.

Japan is already improving its ballistic missile defenses with longer-range, more accurate sea-based missiles on Aegis destroyers in the Sea of Japan and from next month will start a $1 billion upgrade of its ground-based PAC-3 Patriot batteries.

Also under consideration is a land-based version of the Aegis system or the THAAD system.

Those changes, however, will take years to complete and may not be enough to keep pace with rocket technology advances by Pyongyang, the sources said.

A quicker option would be for Japan to deploy ground-to-ground missiles to defend against an attack on its Yonaguni island near Taiwan fired from bases on Japanese territory several hundred kilometers to the east.

A missile with that range could also hit sites in North Korea.

Japan could also buy precision air launched missiles such as Lockheed Martin Corp’s extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) or the shorter-range Joint Strike missile designed by Norway’s Kongsberg Defence Aerospace AS for the F-35 fighter jet.

But with limited capability to track mobile launchers, some Japanese officials still fear any strike would leave North Korea with enough rockets to retaliate with a mass attack.

“A strike could be justified as self defense, but we have to consider the response that could provoke,” said another LDP lawmaker, who asked not to be identified.

(This story was refiled to correct full name of THAAD in paragraph 10)

(Editing by Lincoln Feast)

U.S. should expand missile defense due to North Korea, Iran: lawmaker

U.S. Rep Mac Thornberry discussing missile defense against Iran and North Korea

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States should invest more in missile defense given missile testing by North Korea and Iran, the chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee said on Monday.

The comments by Republican Representative Mac Thornberry followed new U.S. sanctions against Iran after Tehran’s recent ballistic missile tests. Washington is also concerned North Korea may be preparing to test a new ballistic missile.

Thornberry’s position was a sign of support in Congress for military spending to counter North Korea after President Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign raised doubts about future U.S. funding to defend allies like South Korea and Japan.

“If you look at what’s happening around the world, I would mention Iran and North Korea, the importance of missile defense is increasing,” Thornberry said at a roundtable discussion with reporters.

He said there was a need both to provide more systems and to improve missile defense technology. “Actors around the world are building missiles that are harder to stop,” he added.

Jim Mattis, Trump’s defense secretary, told South Korea last week that Washington and Seoul would stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” to face the threat from North Korea.

Both South Korea and the United States have recommitted to plans to deploy an $800 million advanced missile defense system in South Korea later this year.

More broadly, Thornberry also said he expected an end to strict limits on defense spending now that Republicans control both Congress and the White House.

The 2011 Budget Control Act imposed across-the-board cuts on government spending, and under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, congressional Democrats were able to ward off Republican pushes to increase the defense budget without also raising spending on non-defense items such as education and medical research.

“I think we have a tremendous opportunity to do the right thing,” Thornberry said. “There’s more of the federal budget being looked at, in play, if you will, than has been the case for many years.”

The Trump administration is expected within weeks to send Congress a request for a supplemental bill to increase defense spending this year.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrew Hay)