UPDATE 2-US, South Korea agree on longer range ballistic missiles

Reuters Middle East

(Updates with White House comment)

SEOUL, Oct 7 (Reuters) - South Korea has reached a landmark

agreement with the United States to extend the range of Seoul's

ballistic missiles by more than twice the current limit to

counter the threat from North Korea, the government said on

Sunday.

The move to significantly boost the South's missile

capabilities along with development of advanced aerial

reconnaissance vehicles is likely to rattle the communist North,

which has remained at odds since the 1950-53 Korean War left the

peninsula divided.

It may also stoke concern in China, Japan and Russia, parts

of which would be within range of the new missiles.

Under the agreement, South Korea can develop missiles up to

a range of 800 kms (497 mile) from the current ceiling of 300

kms (186 mile), Chun Young-woo, top secretary to President Lee

Myung-bak for foreign and security affairs, told reporters.

He said the United States and South Korea also agreed to

maintain the maximum payload for a South Korean-developed

ballistic missile at the current level of 500 kilograms (1,102

lbs).

However, if Seoul chose to develop a missile with shorter

ranges, it could increase the payload accordingly.

South Korea has also been allowed to develop unmanned aerial

vehicles, or UAVs, with an unlimited payload weight if the

flying distance is within 300 kilometres.

Seoul has for years sought to extend its missile range to

deter the North, which it said had developed missiles that could

reach every corner of the country. It also wanted to increase

the payload for the UAVs and develop not only reconnaissance

UAVs but also combat drones.

"The most important goal for our government to revise the

missile guidelines is deterring North Korea's military

provocations," Chun said.

Currently, all of South Korea as well as U.S. military

installations in Japan and Guam, are within the range of North

Korean missile attacks, according to South Korean government

data.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States is

in regular consultations with South Korea and the "new missile

guidelines" were designed to improve the ability to defend

against North Korea's ballistic missiles. "The revisions are a

prudent, proportional, and specific response" to North Korea, he

told reporters on Air Force One.

"The onus here is on North Korea, as it has been, to abide

by its international obligations to fulfill its obligations

under two United Nations Security Council resolutions," Carney

said. It was "absolutely legitimate" for South Korea to take

actions in consultation with the United States to respond to a

threat posed by North Korea's ballistic missile program, he

said.

In April, North Korea was condemned by the U.N. Security

Council after a failed long-range rocket launch. U.S. allies

including South Korea deemed it a disguised test for the North

to upgrade its ballistic missile technology despite Pyongyang's

claim that it was aimed to put a satellite into orbit for

peaceful purpose.

Washington had sought to discourage South Korea from

developing longer-range ballistic missiles in keeping with a

voluntary international arms-control pact known as the Missile

Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

(Reporting by Sung-won Shim, additional reporting by Jeff Mason

on Air Force One; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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