US gives nod to 800km-range S. Korean missiles

This undated picture released on April 19, 2012 in Seoul by South Korea’s Defence Ministry via Yonhap shows the test-launch of its new ballistic missile at an undisclosed location. (AFP Photo/South Korean Defence Ministry via Yonhap)

The US has permitted its ally South Korea to develop ballistic missiles with more than double the range it was allowed earlier. The proliferation-harming move is meant as a reaction to Pyongyang’s military build-up.

The deal was announced Sunday by Chun Young-woo, top secretary to President Lee Myung-bak for foreign and security affairs of the Korean government, after weeks of expectation.

“The most important goal for our government to revise the missile guidelines is deterring North Korea’s military provocations,” Chun told the media.

Seoul has been seeking permission for years to expand the range limit for its ballistic missiles from the previous 300km. The limit was set by a military alliance pact with the US, which hosts some 28,500 of its troops in Korea and is obliged to intervene militarily should the country be attacked.

After the landmark revision Seoul is allowed to deploy missiles with the range of up to 800km. This is likely to give pause to North Korea, but also to China and Japan, which would be within range of 800km South Korean missiles.

The deal maintains the current limit on the payload for long-range Korean missiles at 500kg, although shorter-range versions may have bigger payloads, Chun said.

The range boost may benefit the outgoing president’s Conservative Party during the December presidential election. Lee is banned from re-election by the constitution, but a major diplomatic victory in the last months of his presidency would build voter confidence and help the party remain in power, South Korean news agency Yonhap said.

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