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Top South Korean presidential candidate will review THAAD deployment, advisers say

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks as South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se looks on during a press conference in SeoulMore

"We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, economic measures". Suggestions by Tillerson and others about a new direction have fueled speculation the USA may put greater focus on military options, which previous administrations have avoided.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says military action against North Korea is "on the table" if the country keeps developing nuclear weapons.

But the chances of Tillerson persuading China to do more to curb North Korea's weapons programs while in Beijing appear scant, given China's anger at the deployment of a USA anti-missile system in South Korea last week, and Trump's repeated threats to impose punitive tariffs on Beijing to correct a large trade imbalance. "That includes a period where the United States has provided $1.35 billion in assistance to North Korea as an encouragement to take a different pathway".

On Thursday, 38 North, a website run by the U.S. -Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, said that satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the northeast shows that substantial tunnel excavation is continuing at the North Portal, where the last four of the five underground nuclear tests by the North were conducted. "That would leave North Korea with significant capabilities that would represent a true threat".

More generally, Secretary of Defense Mattis' first trip overseas to Korea and Japan in early February strongly reaffirmed USA commitment to its allies in Northeast Asia.

"Realistically, absent the use of nuclear weapons or the invasion and occupation of North Korea, the United States and its allies are already at a point where they can not guarantee the complete removal of the threat of a North Korean nuclear attack". Experts say it could have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the US within a few years.

After Tokyo, Tillerson will fly on to Seoul for talks with South Korea's acting leader, and at the weekend he heads to Beijing amid reports he will seek to finalise plans for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to visit Trump in April.

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The X-band radar, a core element of the USA missile defense system dubbed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), will arrive in South Korea on March 16, a local broadcaster KBS reported on Wednesday.

China says the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system's powerful radar is a threat to its security. Outside one store, Chinese protesters hung a large banner that read, "South Korea's Lotte has declared war on China".

"We hope they will work with us to eliminate the reason THAAD is required". The North has carried out 24 ballistic missile tests and two nuclear detonation tests in the previous year. Or the tests could reflect a decision that a "wait and see" posture is unlikely to produce results, ushering in a period of bigger and better nuclear weapons and missile tests, possibly including an intercontinental ballistic missile able to reach the United States. It was made during a 20-minute joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se in central Seoul, ahead of his closed-door meeting with Yun.

Earlier, Tillerson visited the Demilitarized Zone, and looked across the heavily fortified border at armed North Korean guards, staring back.

"If North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces", he said, "then that will be met with appropriate response". South Korean president Park Geun-hye has just been removed from office for corruption, and a presidential election that could bring the opposition party to power will be held in May.

However, Tillerson highlighted China's influence as North Korea's main economic and political benefactor. This would allow China to continue managing its relationship with North Korea while simultaneously advancing its own long-term goal of preventing the nuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as reducing US military presence in South Korea and the region as a whole. The State Department says getting cooperation from China, Japan and South Korea is key to trying to slow down North Korea's advancing nuclear program.

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