The US and South Korea are today set to announce a joint response to the perceived threat from North Korea’s growing ballistic missile force, according to a State Department notice to US lawmakers on Friday.
A senior US congressional aide said he understood that the two countries have agreed to a watershed deal under which Seoul may develop missiles capable of hitting any part of the North from anywhere in the South.
The notice, obtained by Reuters, said the US and South Korea had been discussing “countermeasures” as an alliance to the threat posed by the North’s ballistic missile arsenal.
The South Korean government will make a public announcement of the outcome of the talks today, the notice said. The State Department and the South Korean embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Seoul for years has sought to push its missile range beyond 300km, the limit under a pact with the US, which maintains about 28,500 troops in the South.
The deal to be announced in Seoul would stretch the range to 800km, largely in line with the South’s push over recent months, according to the congressional aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Any such extension is bound to rattle North Korea, which has remained at odds with the South since the 1950-1953 Korean War left the peninsula divided.
It also likely would stir Japan and China, parts of which would be within range of 800km South Korean missiles, said Greg Thielmann, who formerly took part in intelligence assessments on ballistic missile threats at the State Department’s intelligence bureau.
Steven Hildreth, a missile expert at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, said North Korea, which from time to time has threatened to attack Seoul, “could easily use this announcement for whatever suits their threat du jour.”
Washington had long 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.