September 04, 2017 11:24
President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump agreed "in principle" over the phone late Friday to increase the permissible payload of South Korea's ballistic missiles "to a level that the South Korean side desires."
That paves the way for boosting the maximum payload from 500 kg to 1 ton or more, which would make it possible to destroy North Korean underground bunkers dug deep in the ground.
"The leaders of the two countries agreed in principle to revise the missile guidelines to a level that the South Korean side desires, sharing the view that South Korea needs to bolster its defense capabilities to counter North Korea's provocations and threats," presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun said Saturday.
Seoul is now going to set up a task force and begin formal negotiations with Washington to revise the current missile guidelines. A schedule will be agreed at the annual Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul next month.
Under the current guidelines, South Korea can only have ballistic missiles with a range of up to 800 km and a payload of up to 500 kg.
But under a trade-off rule, it can increase the payload if it shortens the range. For example, it can have a 1-ton payload for missiles with a range of 500 km and a 2-ton payload for missiles with a range of 300 km.
It wants to focus on increasing the permissible payload rather than the range because no target in the North is further than 800 km away. But if North Korea has really perfected the technology to mount a nuclear bomb on a ballistic missile, then even an increased South Korean payload would be no match for it.
A retired Army general here said, "No matter how powerful its payload is, no conventional missile can match a nuclear-tipped one."
Meanwhile, Moon and Trump agreed to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this month.
Moon meets his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok on Wednesday.
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