The U.S. has agreed to let South Korea extend the range of its missiles from 300 km to 800 km and the payload of drones from 500 kg to up to 2.5 tons, Cheong Wa Dae said Sunday.
Seoul sought the revisions "to deal with the North Korean missile threat," president secretary Chun Young-woo said.
That ends marathon talks that saw Seoul try to wear down stiff resistance from Washington to increasing its independent missile capacity. The restrictions were last revised in 2001.
South Korea is capable of developing a missile with an 800-km range in just a year that would be able to hit any target inside North Korea. Seoul will also be able to build a drone similar to the Global Hawk currently being used by the U.S. in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
But the new permitted range of South Korea's missiles still pales compared to China and Russia, which have intercontinental ballistic missiles that can hit targets more than 10,000 km away, and even lags behind North Korea, which has deployed missiles with ranges between 3,000 and 4,000 km. Japan has solid-fuel rockets that could be converted into ICBMs.
Even at the end of negotiations, the weight of warheads of South Korean missiles remains at 500 kg, and Seoul was unable to lift a prohibition on developing civilian solid-fuel rockets. Critics of the latest revisions cite these remaining restrictions as proof that South Korea is still being prevented from obtaining the capability to defend itself effectively against a North Korean attack.
The matter of solid-fueled rockets was not even on in the agenda of the latest talks. "The issue of a space launch vehicle was not related to military needs and was not included in the missile negotiations between defense officials from both sides," a Defense Ministry official here said. "The two sides agreed to discuss that issue through foreign ministry officials in the future."