Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Friday morning spoke to his South Korean counterpart after North Korea conducted a nuclear missile test a night earlier, the Pentagon said.
During the call, Carter reaffirmed an “ironclad” American commitment to the defense of South Korea, and its inclusion under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Speaking at a news briefing in Norway, where he was visiting, Carter also said the international community must “redouble the pressure” on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.
He also said China — North Korea’s only ally in the region, “shares responsibility for this development.”
Senior U.S. defense officials will also conduct a secure video teleconference later Friday with Japanese and South Korean officials to discuss the test, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said.
Davis said the test illustrated why the Pentagon is deploying an anti-ballistic missile system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, to South Korea. The Chinese have protested the deployment.
“North Korea has been our best spokesperson for why we need THAAD in the Republic of Korea. They have made the case better than we could if we were trying to make it ourselves,” said Davis.
“We’re now in the process of making that happen. We expect it’ll happen next year,” he said.
Davis said the Pentagon was sticking to its schedule for deploying the system next year but that it could be deployed immediately if there was an emergent need.
In the meantime, the Pentagon will deploy a specially configured airplane, the WC-135, that collects particular gaseous and effluents and debris from “accessible regions of the atmosphere,” Davis said. Those particles can be followed and tracked for “weeks and months,” he added.
“You can expect to see that aircraft flying in the region soon as part of our efforts to assess what happened last night,” he said.
“Certainly all indications that we’ve seen based on the seismic activity is certainly consistent with a nuclear test at Pyongyang.”
Republicans called on the Obama administration to take robust action.
“North Korea’s fifth nuclear weapons test – its second this year— is a stark reminder of the threat posed by a lawless regime. Furthermore, North Korea has also conducted a record level of ballistic missile tests this year, including an apparently successful test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement.
“Now is the time for the Obama Administration to robustly enforce all sanctions tools at its disposal and to redouble its efforts to strengthen security guarantees and defense relationships with unshakable allies like South Korea and Japan. The wisdom and foresight of [South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s] decision to accept the deployment of a U.S. Army THAAD battery is on display today,” he said.