SEOUL — North Korea has warned that the U.S. mainland is within range of its missiles, and said that Washington’s recent agreement to let Seoul possess missiles capable of hitting all of the North shows the allies are plotting to invade the country.
South Korea announced Sunday that it reached a deal with Washington that would allow it to nearly triple the range of its missiles to better cope with North Korean missile and nuclear threats.
On Tuesday, North Korea called the deal a “product of another conspiracy of the master and the stooge” to “ignite a war” against the North.
“We do not hide – the strategic rocket forces are keeping within the scope of strike not only the bases of the puppet forces and the U.S. imperialist aggression forces’ bases in the inviolable land of Korea but also Japan, Guam and the U.S. mainland,” the spokesman said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news conference that North Korea would achieve nothing through threats and provocations. She declined to say whether the continental U.S. is within the North’s missile range.
She said South Korea’s missile ranges and capabilities have not changed since 2001, while North has been clearly working on its own. She said the recent agreement with the South on missiles is defensive in nature.
North Korean long-range rockets are believed to have a range of up to about 4,160 miles, putting parts of Alaska within reach, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.
But the North’s spotty record in test launches raises doubts about whether it is truly capable of an attack.
That also alarmed Washington because about 50,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Japan and their bases could be within the North’s range. Tokyo and Washington have since intensified their ballistic missile defenses.
But the North’s most recent rocket launch, in April, ended in humiliating failure shortly after liftoff. North Korea said it was trying to launch a satellite with that launch, but the U.S. and other countries said it was actually a test of long-range missile technology.
The failure suggests that Pyongyang has yet to master the technology it needs to control multistage rockets – a key capability if it is to threaten the U.S. with intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Although North Korea is believed to have a small nuclear arsenal, experts do not believe it has mastered the miniaturization technology required to mount a nuclear weapon on a long-range rocket.
It’s unusual for the North to say its missiles are capable of striking the U.S., but Pyongyang often has threatened to attack South Korea and the U.S. in times of tension.
It often does not follow through, but its deadly 2010 artillery strikes on a South Korean island came after it issued a threat to retaliate against South Korean military drills.
Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor based in Seoul, said that in the latest case, the North had no choice but to respond to South Korea’s extended missile range, but is unlikely to launch a provocation, as it is waiting for the results of U.S. and South Korean presidential elections.
Under the new deal with the U.S., South Korea will be able to possess ballistic missiles with a range of up to 500 miles. South Korea will continue to limit the payload to 1,100 pounds for ballistic missiles with an 500-mile range, but it will be able to use heavier payloads for missiles with shorter ranges.
A previous 2001 accord with Washington had barred South Korea from deploying ballistic missiles with a range of more than 186 miles and a payload of more than 1,100 pounds because of concerns about a regional arms race.
The Korean Peninsula remains officially at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The U.S. stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea as deterrence against possible aggression from North Korea.
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