A newly announced bilateral accord with the United States authorizes South Korea to develop ballistic missiles that can travel as far as 497 miles, which is substantially more than twice its previously permitted range, Reuters reported on Sunday.
Chun Young-woo, a senior aide to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, said the defense agreement would hold steady the presently permitted top warhead payload of 1,102 pounds for high-altitude missiles with the newly extended range. Missiles manufactured with lesser ranges would be allowed to carry a greater payload.
The maximum allowed ballisttic missile range under an older accord was 186 miles. South Korea has long lobbied for more powerful ballistic missiles as a countermeasure to North Korea's own considerable missile capabilities.
"The most important goal for our government to revise the missile guidelines is deterring North Korea's military provocations," Chun said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the "new missile guidelines" were aimed at enhancing the South's effectiveness in countering the North's ballistic missiles. "The revisions are a prudent, proportional and specific response" to the North Korean threat, he said.
"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. He said Seoul has an "absolutely legitimate" right to defend itself against the North.
The Obama administration had previously tried to persuade South Korea against producing farther-flying ballistic missiles in accordance with the guidelines of the nonbinding international Missile Technology Control Regime, Reuters reported.
The South Korean armed forces now intend over the next half-decade to pursue ballistic missiles with ranges of 342 miles and 497 miles, an unidentified source told the Yonhap News Agency. A five-year budget of $2.1 billion has been allocated for the project.
Pyongyang on Tuesday characterized the new U.S.-South Korea missile deal as a "product of another conspiracy of the master and the stooge" to instigate a war with North Korea, the Associated Press reported.
The influential National Defense Commission in a released statement to regime-controlled media promised to enhance its armed forces' readiness for battle. The Stalinist state also claimed its missile arsenal was capable of hitting the continental United States, U.S. military forces on Guam and anywhere in Japan and South Korea.
"The strategic rocket forces are keeping within the scope of strike not only the bases of the puppet forces and the U.S. imperialist aggression forces' bases in the inviolable land of Korea but also Japan, Guam, and the U.S. mainland," a commission spokesman said.
Pyongyang does not typically make such direct missile threats to the U.S. homeland.