SEOUL — The United States has agreed to allow South Korea to possess longer-range missiles that could strike all of North Korea, officials said Sunday, a development expected to draw an angry response from the North.
Under a 2001 accord with Washington, South Korea has been barred from developing and 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.
South Korea announced Sunday that the U.S. accord has been altered to allow the South to have ballistic missiles with a range of up to 500 miles to better cope with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
Under the new agreement, 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, senior presidential official Chun Yung-woo told a news conference.
The heavier a payload is, the more destructive power it can have.
“The most important objective for our government in revising the missile guideline is to contain North Korea’s armed provocation,” Mr. Chun said.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement that it will greatly increase its missile capability under the new accord, adding that South Korea will be able to “strike all of North Korea, even from southern areas.”
Defense Department press secretary George Little said the agreement resulted from a South Korean-requested discussion on ways to respond to North Korean missile activities.
“These revisions are a prudent, proportional, and specific response to the [North Korean] ballistic missile threat,” he said.
The deal also will allow South Korea to operate drone aircraft carrying payloads of up to 5,510 pounds with a range of more than 186 miles. It places no restriction on payloads for drones with a flying distance of less than 186 miles, officials said.
South Korea also can possess cruise missiles with an unlimited range as long as their payload is less than 1,100 pounds.
Media reports say the South has deployed cruise missiles with a range of more than 620 miles, but defense officials have refused to confirm that.
Cruise missiles fly at a lower altitude and slower speed than ballistic missiles, making them easier to intercept, although they are considered more accurate.
North Korean state media didn’t immediately respond to the announcement, but analysts expected they would issue a harsh statement.