The United States has agreed to allow South Korea to possess longer-range missiles that could strike all of North Korea, officials said on 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 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 on 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 (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 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 at a news conference.
“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.”
The deal also allows South Korea to operate drone aircraft with payloads of up to 2,500 kilograms (5,510 pounds) with a range of more than 300 kilometers (186 miles). 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 (1,100 pounds).
North Korean state media didn’t immediately respond to the announcement, but analysts expected they would issue a harsh statement.
North Korea has missiles that can hit South Korea, Japan and the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry. In April, the 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.