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U.S. letting South Korea get longer-range missiles
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 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.”
“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.
“North Korea will say South Korea’s missile development is a preparation for war. It will likely warn that South Korea cannot avoid a nuclear disaster if it moves to attack North Korean missile bases,” said analyst Baek Seung-joo of the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.
In April, the Stalinist country conducted a long-range rocket test that Washington, Seoul and others called a cover for a test of long-range missile technology. North Korea says the rocket, which broke apart shortly after liftoff, was meant to launch a satellite.
North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, but experts don’t believe it has yet mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear weapon on a missile.
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 a deterrence against aggression from the North.
By Tom Fitton
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