The United States will consult allies and partners to decide where to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia and elsewhere to maintain deterrence after withdrawing from an anti-missile treaty with Russia, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said.
The comments came after the US pledged to begin testing new missiles and deploy them around the world, including in Asia, after it formally pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia last week.
"Our exit from the treaty on August 2nd was a result of Russian noncompliance ... We now are free, if you will, to develop that range of weapons -- 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers -- that have not been available to us from a ground-based deterrent posture," Esper said on Sunday during a press conference in Sydney.
"So I think to the degree that allowing us to design and develop, test and eventually deploy systems, whether it's in Europe, whether it's in the Asia Pacific or elsewhere, gives us and continues that deterrent posture we want to deter conflict in any region in which we deploy them in consultation with our allies and partners," he said, according to a transcript available at the State Department website.
Esper spoke during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and their Australian counterparts after an annual meeting of the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries, known as the Australia US Ministerial Consultations or AUSMIN.
On Friday, Esper told reporters en route to Sydney that the US "would like to" deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia and that he would prefer to do so within "months."
During the press conference on Sunday, Pompeo also stressed that the possible deployment of such systems will be made with the consent of corresponding nations.
"We make decisions based on good decisions, mutual benefit ... much in the same way we work alongside with our great partners across multiple pieces of our collective security efforts," Pompeo said.
The two secretaries, however, did not give a direct answer to a reporter's question about whether such a plan would aim at China.
Some media outlets speculated that South Korea could be a candidate site, but Seoul's defense ministry officials have said chances appear to be quite slim and the issue will not be on the table for the upcoming defense ministers' talks.
"Our government did not have any official discussions with the US on the possible introduction of intermediate missiles (on South Korean soil). We have not internally reviewed the issue and have no plan to do so," defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a regular briefing.
"As of now, I believe that (the matter) is not among agenda items for the upcoming defense ministers' talks," she added.
Esper was in Sydney as part of his weeklong trip to Asia. He will meet with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on Friday.
During the meeting, the two sides plan to discuss major alliance issues, including the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul, according to Seoul officials. (Yonhap)