U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin said Friday it is not aware of any talks taking place between South Korea and the United States about the THAAD missile defense system, reversing an earlier claim that such discussions are already under way.
"We regret the inaccurate information that was provided by Lockheed Martin yesterday at a media event in Washington," Jennifer Whitlow, senior vice president for communications at Lockheed Martin, said in a statement. "We are not aware of any discussions between the U.S. and Korea regarding THAAD."
On Thursday, Mike Trotsky, the company's vice president of air and missile defense, claimed during a National Press Club news conference that the two countries have already been in "formal and informal discussions" on the possible deployment of a THAAD missile defense battery to the South.
Trotsky also said the discussions are at "a very beginning state."
The claim came ahead of U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter's trip to South Korea for the annual defense ministers' talks with Seoul's Defense Minister Han Min-koo, raising speculation that it might be a topic for the upcoming talks.
However, both South Korea and the U.S. flatly rejected the claim as untrue.
Seoul's Defense Minister Han Min-koo said that Washington has made no request to Seoul with regard to the issue as there has been no decision yet within the U.S. government. The Pentagon also said it has made no final decision on the issue, nor has it had any formal consultations with the South.
It is not known what was behind Lockheed Martin's flip-flop, including whether Trotsky was truly not familiar with what's going on between the two countries or whether the company wittingly made the mistake in an attempt to promote the issue ahead of the annual defense ministers' talks.
Lockheed Martin voluntarily called Thursday's news conference about missile defense at the National Press Club, where correspondents of many foreign countries are stationed. It is without a doubt that questions about THAAD are asked at such events.
A similar incident happened in April when a senior Lockheed Martin official told the New York Times days before Carter's trip to Seoul that the company has been providing the U.S. and the South Korean governments with THAAD-related information. South Korea strongly denied the claim.
THAAD, which stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is considered one of the most advanced missile defense systems in the world, and is manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
The U.S. wants to deploy a THAAD unit to South Korea, where some 28,500 American troops are stationed, to better defend against ever-growing threats from North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
But the issue has become one of the most sensitive for South Korea because China sees a THAAD deployment as a threat to their security interests and has increased pressure on Seoul to reject such a move.
Seoul and Washington have claimed they have never held any formal consultations on the issue. (Yonhap)