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S. Korea seeks missiles amid cross-border tension

(Xinhua)

13:17, September 21, 2011

SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- South Korea and the United States are in talks over allowing Seoul to develop longer-range ballistic missiles capable of striking all of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), a potential irritant in already tense cross-border relations.

The allies have been engaged in working-level discussions on revising their bilateral missile accord signed three decades ago, South Korean defense minister Kim Kwan-jin recently told parliament.

"We are holding technical negotiations over extending the missile range so that it would cover the whole of the Korean peninsula," Kim said in an annual parliamentary audit.

The move comes amid increasingly vociferous calls here for changes to the missile pact between Seoul and Washington, struck in 1979 and revised in 2001, which limits the firing range of South Korea's missiles to 300 kilometers and their payload to 500 kilograms.

Kim's remark also followed media reports that the U.S. wanted to sell Global Hawk surveillance planes to South Korea, as officials here sought to increase surveillance capabilities after 50 South Koreans were killed in two border incidents last year.

Tension still runs high on the divided peninsula after the DPRK' s alleged sinking of a South Korean warship and bombardment of an inhabited border island last year. Pyongyang denies its responsibility and has long refused to apologize for any of the incidents.

Purchasing Global Hawk drone aircraft, with its range of more than 22,000 kilometers, requires an exemption from a global arms control agreement aimed at stopping the spread of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction.

South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an informal and voluntary association of 34 countries, in 2001 after a hard-won approval by Washington to revise the 1979 missile pact.

Trying to counter perceived missile threats from north of the border without breaching the guidelines in place, South Korea has instead opted to build slower, surface-skimming cruise missiles with a range of up to 1,500 kilometers, which are not subject to the MTCR.

The DPRK, reportedly with more than 800 ballistic missiles and some 1,000 missiles of various ranges, already possesses missile capability superior to that of its southern rival.

It has 3,000-kilometer-range intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can strike the entire Korean peninsula as well as U. S. military installations in Japan and Guam, according to South Korea's latest defense white paper.

U.S. government officials said Pyongyang's development of intercontinental ballistic missiles posed a "direct threat" to the U.S., reflecting growing regional concern over the socialist state's missile program.

South Korea's nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac, who is scheduled to hold rare talks with his DPRK counterpart Wednesday in Beijing, is expected to demand Pyongyang to impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests before returning to a multilateral forum on ending its nuclear program.

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