The US and South Korea on Friday agreed to bolster Seoul’s defenses and Washington gave a nod to billions in arms sales to the country, the White House said, days after North Korea fired a missile over Japan and threatened further launches.
In Seoul, presidential Blue House spokesman Park Soo-hyun confirmed that US President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to enhance the country’s deterrence against North Korea by boosting its missile capabilities.
Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 over Japan early on Tuesday, which it said was a mere “curtain-raiser” for the North’s “resolute countermeasures” against US-South Korean military drills.
It came as US and South Korean forces were nearing the end of the 10-day annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint exercises, which the North regards as a rehearsal for invasion.
Trump has said that “all options” are on the table in an implied threat of pre-emptive military action, while on Thursday US heavy bombers and stealth jet fighters took part in a joint live-fire drill in South Korea intended as a show of force.
Trump and Moon spoke by telephone on Friday about North Korean’s “continued destabilizing and escalatory behavior,” the White House said in a statement.
“The two leaders agreed to strengthen our alliance through defense cooperation and to strengthen South Korea’s defense capabilities,” the White House said. “President Trump provided his conceptual approval of planned purchases by South Korea of billions of dollars in American military equipment.”
Park said the leaders had reached an agreement in principle to loosen — “to the extent hoped by the South Korean side” — limits on the South’s ballistic missile capability.
Under a bilateral agreement with the US, Seoul is restricted to ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 800km and payload of 500kg.
The South wants the maximum warhead weight doubled to 1 tonne and the Pentagon has said it was “actively” considering the revision.
Signed with the US in 2001 — the year South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) — the agreement initially limited Seoul to rockets with a range of just 300km, due to US concerns about triggering a regional arms race in Northeast Asia.
However, after a long-range rocket test by North Korea in 2012, Seoul negotiated the near three-fold increase in the range limit to 800km, putting North Korean military facilities that were previously out of range within reach, as well as parts of China and Japan.
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