By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States should invest more in missile defense given missile testing by North Korea and Iran, the chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee said on Monday.
The comments by Republican Representative Mac Thornberry followed new U.S. sanctions against Iran after Tehran's recent ballistic missile tests. Washington is also concerned North Korea may be preparing to test a new ballistic missile.
Thornberry's position was a sign of support in Congress for military spending to counter North Korea after President Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign raised doubts about future U.S. funding to defend allies like South Korea and Japan.
"If you look at what's happening around the world, I would mention Iran and North Korea, the importance of missile defense is increasing," Thornberry said at a roundtable discussion with reporters.
He said there was a need both to provide more systems and to improve missile defense technology. "Actors around the world are building missiles that are harder to stop," he added.
Jim Mattis, Trump's defense secretary, told South Korea last week that Washington and Seoul would stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" to face the threat from North Korea.
Both South Korea and the United States have recommitted to plans to deploy an $800 million advanced missile defense system in South Korea later this year.
More broadly, Thornberry also said he expected an end to strict limits on defense spending now that Republicans control both Congress and the White House.
The 2011 Budget Control Act imposed across-the-board cuts on government spending, and under former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, congressional Democrats were able to ward off Republican pushes to increase the defense budget without also raising spending on non-defense items such as education and medical research.
"I think we have a tremendous opportunity to do the right thing," Thornberry said. "There's more of the federal budget being looked at, in play, if you will, than has been the case for many years."
The Trump administration is expected within weeks to send Congress a request for a supplemental bill to increase defense spending this year.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrew Hay)