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Whether the United States would deploy its advance anti-missile shield in South Korea is not a matter of "bargaining" with China in the run-up to the United Nations' adoption of fresh sanctions on North Korea, a senior U.S. diplomat said Friday.

"There's no connection between what is going on in the diplomatic track in the U.N. Security Council and the question of the deployment of THAAD," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told reporters in Seoul. "THAAD is not a diplomatic bargaining chip."

   The comments suggest the U.S.' push to deploy the anti-ballistic missile system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD, in South Korea will not waver despite China's strong opposition.

Earlier this week, the U.S. abruptly postponed the scheduled launch of a joint working group with South Korea on the deployment of a THAAD battery here.

The delay coincided with the American and Chinese top diplomats' talks on adopting more stringent-than-ever sanctions on North Korea, sparking speculations that the U.S. may scrap the deployment plan in return for China joining the U.N.'s punitive actions against North Korea.

Russel arrived in Seoul earlier in the day to discuss how to jointly respond to North Korea's recent nuclear and long-range rocket tests.

He had meetings with Foreign Minister Yoon Byung-se and his counterpart Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Hong-kyun before holding a brief meeting with reporters.

Russel stressed the deployment is only defensive in nature and aims only to protect South Koreans and Americans here from North Korea's missile threats.

"It aims not at a third country, not China, but defending the citizens of the Republic of Korea and U.S. citizens and service members here," he noted.

He also reaffirmed the U.S.' position that there will be no peacemaking talks with North Korea until the communist country denuclearized itself.

"There's no change in the U.S. position ... Denuclearization is our priority No. 1," Russel noted.

If North Korea comes into compliance with UNSC resolutions and previous denuclearization pledges, that could "open the door" to progress on the broader range of issues in addition to a peace mechanism sought by the North, he said.

But if not, "Then North Korea can and should expect a continuation of being in position of sanctions, pressure," he stressed.

Washington and Beijing agreed Wednesday on a draft resolution calling for the strongest sanctions on Pyongyang ever, including mandatory inspections of all cargo going in and out of North Korea.

A South Korean presidential official pointed out that implementation will be key.

"Smooth cooperation with China and other countries will be important," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Security Council is expected to adopt the resolution as early as this weekend after a review by the 13 other council members.

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and followed it up with a long-range rocket launch on Feb. 7, which the outside world views as a banned test of ballistic missile technology.

"We affirmed that significant progress that we have made is a direct function of the strength of our close alliance coordination," Russel said of the imminent resolution. "We have moved in locked steps, we have worked, sought and planned together."

   On Saturday, Russel will fly to Beijing, where he is expected to hold further consultations on North Korea. (Yonhap)