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SEOUL, April 2 (Yonhap) — Russia sees the possible deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system in South Korea as a regional threat that could spark an arms race, Russia’s new ambassador to South Korea said Thursday.
The remarks by Alexander Timonin came as the U.S. is considering deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea, home to some 28,500 American troops, citing evolving threats from North Korea.
“Washington’s move to deploy THAAD on the Korean Peninsula poses security threats not only to Russia but also to the region as a whole,” Timonin said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. “We see the deployment itself is a threat to security in the region.”
He expressed hope that South Korea would “carefully” review whether the system has disadvantages rather than advantages.
Timonin began work as Russia’s ambassador to Seoul in February after serving as Moscow’s ambassador to North Korea between 2012 and 2014.
He is the first former Russian envoy to Pyongyang to be transferred to the South to head Russia’s embassy in Seoul.
Russia invited South Korean President Park Geun-hye to its May commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is widely expected to attend the celebrations in what would be his first overseas trip since taking office in late 2011. Park has not decided to join the events.
“The North Korean leader is expected to visit Moscow and may have a chance to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin,” he added.
Whether Park attends the events is under keen attention due to a possibility of an inter-Korean dialogue outside the divided peninsula.
The inter-Korean relationship has been strained amid geopolitical tension with a scant sign of resuming high-level contact.
Timonin expressed hope that Park will give a positive answer to the invitation by taking into account all factors, including the friendly relationship between Seoul and Moscow.
“It is up to the leaders from the two Koreas to decide over the inter-Korean talks. (If they visit Russia and agree to hold such talks), Russia could make efforts to create favorable environments (for the dialogue),” he said.
When it comes to the six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program, Timonin said North Korea is “willing and ready” to have such dialogue, stressing the need to resume the talks without preconditions.
The six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia have been dormant since late 2008 when the North left the negotiation table. Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.
Since the latest nuke test, North Korea has demanded the unconditional resumption of the six-party talks, but Seoul and Washington have claimed that the North should first show its sincerity toward denuclearization.
“All of the six parties should resume the denuclearization talks as early as possible based on principles laid out at a joint statement on Sept. 19, 2005,” he said. At that time, the North had agreed to end its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
Recently, North Korea has been seeking to reach out to Russia to break away from its international isolation, which analysts say results from Pyongyang’s strained ties with China.
Timonin said that the phenomenon is the reflection that the North recognized the need to promote cooperation with Moscow, viewing growing exchanges between Moscow and Pyongyang as “natural.”
The envoy, meanwhile, rejected speculation that Russia and North Korea are deepening their military cooperation.
“There is no military cooperation. There have been also no a joint military exercise,” Timonin said.
He also said that it is not right to see that the North’s ties with Beijing have chilled.
“China and North Korea are maintaining high-level cooperation in many areas such as politics and trade,” he added.
He also expressed hope for more advancement in a trilateral cooperative project involving the two Koreas and Russia, known as the Rajin-Khasan logistics project.
In a pilot operation, a shipment of Russian coal arrived in South Korea on a ship from the North Korean port city of Rajin in November after being transported from Khasan, Russia on a re-connected railway.
“It is up to South Korean firms if another pilot operation for the shipment and a formal contract are to be realized,” he added.
With regard to the Ukraine conflict, the envoy rejected the term “annexation” in describing the Crimea issue, saying that people there voluntarily decided to reunify with Russia last year.
“The only solution to the Ukraine conflict is to implement a ceasefire deal reached in (Belarusian capital of) Minsk,” he said.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Russia and South Korea.
“The two nations have produced many achievements for the development of their ties so far,” Timonin said. “As Russia’s new envoy, I will do my best to further upgrade this relationship.”
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