Friday, January 21, 2011

Seoul Proposes Talks With U.S. on Missile Tech

BY ADMIN South Korea and the United States began consultation late last year on revising decade-old guidelines restricting the former's missile technology, military sources here said.
The move comes amid growing calls to boost the country's missile capability to counter North Korean missile threats. It also comes after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp expressed serious concerns about the North's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program.
Under a 2001 agreement with the United States, South Korea restricts its missile capability to a range of 300 kilometers and a 500-kilogram payload to comply with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
The regime only applies to high-velocity, free-flight ballistic missiles, so the South Korean military has instead deployed slower, surface-skimming cruise missiles with ranges of 1,000 kilometers to 1,500 kilometers.
"Our government proposed talks on new guidelines of missile capability, and the U.S. is reviewing our proposal now and has yet to respond to it," Kim Min-seok, spokesman for Seoul's Ministry of National Defense. He declined to comment on the details of Seoul's proposal.
Sources here said Seoul wants to extend the missile range up to 1,000 kilometers in order to bring all of North Korean missile sites and key facilities within reach.
However, U.S. officials are cautious about the issue because Seoul's increased missile capability could cause a backlash from China and Japan, as well as North Korea, according to sources.
In an interview in June, Park Chang-kyu, president of the state-run Agency for Defense Development, called for lifting the missile restrictions while increasing transparency into the country's missile development programs.
"We should develop our own defense technology further by increasing transparency and being engaged actively in international research programs," Park said. "As for the guidelines restricting the range of our missiles to 300 kilometers, we don't even have a test site for missiles with ranges exceeding 300 kilometers. In that case, for instance, we could test our missiles at a U.S. site ... to ensure transparency."
North Korea is believed to have more than 600 Scud missiles with a range of 320 to 500 kilometers and 200 Rodongs with a range of 1,300 kilometers. It is also developing a 6,700-kilometer ICBM that could reach part of the U.S. mainland.
In recent years, North Korea is reported to have established an Army division to take control of its 3,000-kilometer-range intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) that could hit U.S. military installations in Japan and Guam. The North deployed IRBMs in 2007 after it started developing a midrange ballistic missile in the late 1990s, according to Seoul's 2008 defense white paper.
During his visit to China last week, Gates said North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States, adding that the communist regime is within five years of developing ICMBs.
"I think that North Korea will have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile within that time frame," Gates told reporters. But he doubted if the North will be able to field many ICBMs, saying, "I believe they will have a very limited capability."
During an appearance on the PBS Newshour, Sharp, who concurrently serves as head of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, said that the U.S. military is prepared if necessary to neutralize Pyongyang's long-range missile installations.
"The alliance has that capability to do that," said Sharp. "What we have to be prepared to do is to be able to, No. 1, deter. But if deterrence doesn't work, be prepared to respond."

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