Seoul and Washington are still discussing a revision to guidelines that limit the range of South Korean ballistic missiles to 300 km. Seoul wants to extend the range to 800-1,000 km in view of the growing missile threat from North Korea, a wish given greater urgency by the North's plan to launch what it says is a satellite-carrying rocket next month.
The two sides agreed in principle last year to extend the range, a government source said on Thursday, but they "still differ over how far to extend the range."
Seoul prefers 800-1,000 km, which would bring all of North Korea within range from Jeju Island or the south coast. But the U.S. apparently thinks that is too far and worries about opposition from China.
At the bilateral Security Policy Initiative meeting in Washington next month, Seoul is going to cite the North's planned rocket launch, widely believed to be a cover-up for a long-range missile technology test, by way of stressing the urgency of the matter.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told lawmakers in a National Assembly audit last September, "We're discussing with the U.S. so that the missile range can cover the entire Korean Peninsula."
President Lee Myung-bak recently told reporters ahead of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, "By extending our missile range, we want to take preventive measures against attacks from the North. We need an appropriate range"
The existing missile guidelines, signed in 1979 and revised in 2001, limit the range of South Korea's ballistic missiles to 300 km and their payload to 500 kg. That has stopped Seoul developing longer-range missiles even though the North has already deployed ballistic missiles with a range of more than 3,000 km.
There is no limit to the range of cruise missiles, so Seoul developed the Hyunmu-3 cruise missile series with a range of 500-1,500 km. But they are less powerful and slower than ballistic missiles.