The head of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee said Tuesday he would not take issue with South Korea's efforts to extend the range of its ballistic missiles if it does it "in a non-threatening way, totally defensive way at its own expense."
Sen. Carl Levin made the remarks at a seminar at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. He said the extended range of South Korean missiles "should not be viewed as a kind of offensive measure, taking an offensive position or threatening position towards China or toward North Korea."
Earlier, Sen. Donald Manzullo, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, also said he agreed "in principle" with extending the range of South Korean missiles. Other U.S. lawmakers are also voicing support.
But a diplomatic source said, "This is not a matter that requires Congressional approval and is entirely up to the Obama administration. The views of some members of the U.S. Congress will probably not impact negotiations between Seoul and Washington."
Seoul is seeking to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to more than 800 km in order to counter possible North Korean provocations. Under the current guidelines, signed in 1979 and revised in 2001, the range is limited to 300 km and the payload o 500 kg.
President Lee Myung-bak in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in March said North Korea's ballistic missiles are capable of reaching South Korea's southern resort island of Jeju and this necessitates extending the range of the South's ballistic missiles.
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim said in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo that Washington's top priority is to ensure there are no problems in South Korea's ability to defend itself. But the Obama administration is worried about protests from China and is taking a cautious stance.
The issue will apparently be discussed behind closed doors during the "two plus two" meeting between the foreign and defense ministers of South Korea and the U.S. on Thursday.