By Yu Runze,Li Hongmei, Sina English
Finally, the United States has okayed South Korea to possess longer-range missiles that could strike all of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Under a 2001 accord with the US, South Korea has been barred from developing and deploying ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers and a payload of more than 500 kilograms because of concerns about a regional arms race.
The restriction has made South Korea's missile capability inferior to that of rival DPRK, and some key military installations have been out of South Korea's missile range.
South Korea announced Sunday that the US accord had been altered to allow the country to have ballistic missiles with a range of up to 800 kilometers to better cope with DPRK's "nuclear and missile threats."
Under the new agreement, South Korea will continue to limit the payload to 500 kilograms for ballistic missiles with an 800 kilometer range, but it will be able to use heavier payloads for missiles with shorter ranges, senior presidential official Chun Yung-woo said yesterday. 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 DPRK's armed provocation," 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 the DPRK, even from southern areas."
The U.S. Defense Department press secretary George Little said yesterday that the agreement resulted from a South Korean-requested discussion on ways to respond to DPRK's missile activities.
"These revisions are a prudent, proportional, and specific response to the ballistic missile threat," he said.
The deal also allows South Korea to operate drone aircraft with payloads of up to 2,500 kilograms with a range of more than 300 kilometers. It places no restriction on payloads for drones with a flying distance of less than 300 kilometers, officials said.
South Korea can also possess cruise missiles with an unlimited range as long as their payload is less than 500 kilograms. Media reports say South Korea has deployed cruise missiles with a range of more than 1,000 kilometers but defense officials have refused to confirm that.
Cruise missiles fly at a lower altitude and slower speed than ballistic missiles.
The DPRK has missiles that can hit South Korea, Japan and the US Pacific territory of Guam, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.
In April, the DPRK conducted a long-range rocket test that the US, South Korea and sine other countries 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.
The DPRK conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, but experts don't believe it has mastered the technology needed to put a nuclear weapon on a missile.
S Korea to deploy 550-km, 800-km-range missiles in 5 years
South Korea plans to complete the deployment of new ballistic missiles with ranges of 550 and 800 kilometers in five years, a government source here said Monday, a follow-up measure for a revised missile agreement with the United States aimed at deterring threats from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The latest move comes after Seoul announced Sunday that it has reached a landmark agreement with the U.S. to extend the range of its missiles by more than twice the current limit to 800 km, while maintaining the maximum payload at the current level of 500 kilograms.
Under the new guideline, the ROK military will push to deploy 550-km and 800-km range missiles in five years, with a 2.4 trillion won (US$2.1 billion) budget set aside for the 2013-2017 defense plan aimed at bolstering its missile defense system, the source said.
"The military has asked the government to spend 500 billion won for this plan from next year," the official said. "As next year's budget bill was submitted to the National Assembly, it depends on whether the parliament accepts it or not."
Although the defense ministry has not yet decided when to deploy the new ballistic missiles, Seoul officials say it won't take long to develop the ballistic missiles that can fly up to 800 km.
U.S. says improved missile capability to target only DPRK
The White House sought Sunday to limit the impact of a new missile deal with its Asian ally South Korea to its global nonproliferation efforts and regional security conditions in which China plays a growing role.
"The new missile guidelines are designed to improve the ROK's ability to defend against the DPRK ballistic missiles," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "The revisions are a prudent, proportional and specific response to the DPRK."
Carney was responding to a reporter's question as to the South Korean presidential office's announcement hours earlier that Washington has agreed to allow Seoul to develop ballistic missiles with a range of up to 800 kilometers, more than double the current limit of 300km.
It marks the first deal of its kind between the allies in a decade, but the payload cap will remain unchanged at 500kg.
"As partners whose alliance is a linchpin of stability in northeast Asia, we take seriously our mission of maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region," Carney said. "The United States remains firmly committed to our alliance and to the defense of the Republic of Korea. In this context, we have been in discussions with the Republic of Korea, at its request, on ways to address the threat posed by DPRK ballistic missiles."
It's an open secret that the U.S. had been reluctant to let South Korea sharply increase its ballistic missile range out of concern for a negative effect to its nonproliferation campaign.
Washington says no intention to antagonize China
Under the newly agreed guidelines, South Korea's ballistic missiles will be capable of not only covering all the DPRK but also reaching Beijing.
A U.S. diplomatic source said the Obama administration faced a tough choice to accept Seoul's constant request for a robust bilateral alliance, as it feels sandwiched in between its Asia ally and a growing power on which it is increasingly interdependent.
Chinese government, however, has not issued any immediate response to the news.
Xinhua news agency carried articles on the Seoul-Washington move, saying it "runs counter to a global arms control agreement known as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)."
Also, there arise some concerns over the regional security, and obviously, the new missile deal between Washington and Seoul will further aggravate the fragile situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Japan unease about S. Korea’s extending missile range
Japanese media voiced unease over the extension to South Korea's missile range following talks with the U.S. that ended Sunday.
Japan's Asahi Shimbun featured a map illustrating the extended reach of South Korea's missiles and said DPRK's repeated launches of long-range missiles played a key role in boosting the range. The daily forecast that DPRK could now go beyond issuing verbal threats and push ahead with more missile launches.
The paper said Tokyo is wary of the extended range of South Korean missiles, which will be capable of reaching western Japan.
Japan's Kyodo news agency said the U.S. made sure that the extended missile range would not place Beijing or Tokyo within reach, but forecast that Pyongyang would protest since the South will be capable of hitting any target in DPRK.