September 24, 2012 09:53
The U.S. has reportedly agreed to let South Korea extend its ballistic missile range from 300 km to 800 km while maintaining the weight of the warhead at the current 500 kg.
In protracted talks, the two sides also agreed to scrap a trade-off clause in a bilateral agreement that says if the maximum range is extended, the payload weight must be reduced.
They remain at loggerheads over Washington's dogged opposition to Seoul's development of combat drones and civilian solid-fuel rockets. As a result, South Korea may have to abandon plans to develop state-of-the-art combat drones for which it has already budgeted W500 billion and will also have trouble pursuing its civilian space project (US$1=W1,119).
The missile guidelines were last revised in 2001. A government source on Sunday said the two countries have "virtually finished" the missile talks that started early last year and hope to issue a statement by mid-October. "There's been progress in issues like missile range, missile payload weight, and unmanned aerial vehicles but not over development of civilian solid-fuel rockets," the source added.
Seoul had hoped to extend the missile range to 1,000 km, which would cover all of North Korea from Jeju, and increase the payload weight to 1 ton. But Washington is worried that this would also bring the Chinese and Japanese capitals within reach.
For drones, Seoul wanted to increase the current payload of less than 500 kg to 2.5 tons and develop not only reconnaissance UAVs but also combat drones. The U.S. agreed to increase the payload of reconnaissance drones up to a point but is against letting Seoul develop combat drones, the source said.
The talks are expected to wind up by mid-October so South Korea can declare its new missile policy before the two defense ministers meet at the annual Security Consultative Meeting in Washington late next month.
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