The first of two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptors is launched during a successful intercept test on Sept. 10, 2013.

The first of two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptors is launched during a successful intercept test on Sept. 10, 2013. (Missile Defense Agency)

SEOUL, South Korea — A top U.S. defense official said Tuesday that Washington is considering whether to put an advanced missile defense system in South Korea, though Seoul continues to insist that no discussions about a politically sensitive THAAD battery are underway.

Robert Work, deputy secretary of defense, said the U.S. is conducting site surveys for a Korea-based system.

“We’re working with the government of South Korea now to determine if that is the right thing to do,” he told a forum in Washington hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said Wednesday he was aware of Work’s comments, but that Seoul hasn’t received a request from the U.S. to deploy a THAAD system and isn’t discussing the matter with Washington. He would not comment on whether South Korea supported such a move, though many in South Korea worry that China would view the system as a threat.

Some also believe the U.S. is pressuring Seoul to take part in a regional missile defense system that includes Japan.

The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system can shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles with a “hit-to-kill” approach, according the Department of Defense. Interceptors rely on the kinetic energy of the impact to destroy the incoming missile.

Work described the batteries as “strategic assets” whose movement was a “very, very important national-level decision.” A THAAD system, moved to Guam last year, was sent in response to North Korean provocations, he said.

The U.S. has tried to portray a possible Korea-based THAAD system as non-threatening.

“We’ve emphasized to both China and to Russia that these are not strategic anti-ballistic missiles, that … they are essentially designed to address regional threats against both our allies and against U.S. territory,” Work said, according to a transcript of his comments.

“So we continue to work with the Russians and the Chinese to allay any concerns that they have, but they have both indicated concerns, without question.”

U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said in June that he had recommended the deployment of THAAD to South Korea as a deterrent to the North, and discussions with Seoul about doing so were “in a very initial stage.”

“The THAAD system provides a greater sensory array, better awareness of the threats and adds to the interoperability of all our systems,” Scaparrotti was quoted as saying by Yonhap News.

Stars and Stripes staffer Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story. Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes

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