SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea will be able to possess longer-range missiles capable of hitting all of North Korea under a new agreement with the United States that is likely to draw an angry response from the North.
Under a previous 2001 accord with Washington, South Korea had been barred from deploying ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) and a payload of more than 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) because of concerns about a regional arms race.
The restriction has made South Korea’s missile capability inferior to that of rival North Korea, and some key military installations in the North have been out of South Korea’s missile range.
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 800 kilometers to better cope with North Korea’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 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,” 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.”
President Barack Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney, speaking to reporters traveling with Obama to California on Sunday, said “The revisions are of prudent, proportional and specific response” to North Korea. He said they came out of ongoing regular consultations with South Korea on the threat from the North.
The deal also will allow South Korea to operate drone aircraft carrying 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.
South Korea can also possess cruise missiles with an unlimited range as long as their payload is less than 500 kilograms.
North Korea has missiles that can hit South Korea, Japan and the U.S. territory of Guam, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.