South Korean President Lee Myung Bak is seeking to extend the range of the country’s ballistic missiles in response to possible nuclear and missile attacks from North Korea, a presidential spokeswoman said.
Lee yesterday told reporters that the government is in discussions with the U.S. to amend a 2001 accord that restricts South Korea’s missile range to 300 kilometers (186 miles), spokeswoman Lee Mi Yon said. An agreement will be reached shortly because conditions and realities have changed, she cited the president as saying.
The talks come as North Korea, under new leader Kim Jong Un, plans to launch a satellite atop a long-range rocket next month that the U.S. says will nullify a deal to provide the impoverished totalitarian state with food aid. President Barack Obama arrives in Seoul next week to attend a summit on checking nuclear proliferation, where the agenda will include North Korea’s atomic weapons program.
“We’re always looking for ways to enhance defense cooperation and ways of promoting enhanced stability of South Korea and stability in the region,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said yesterday at a briefing in Washington, declining to give specifics on talks with South Korea.
North Korea has rejected international criticism of its announcement of the launch to celebrate the centennial of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather. A North Korean rocket fired in 2009 demonstrated a reach of as far as 4,500 kilometers, and the government aims to increase the range to 7,000 kilometers, according to Baek Seung Joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul.
North Korea invited United Nations inspectors back to survey its nuclear facilities for the first time in three years, as part of its February agreement to halt nuclear and missile tests in exchange for 240,000 metric tons of U.S. food aid. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon today said launching a satellite would be “in clear violation” of UN Security Council resolutions forbidding North Korea from using ballistic missile technology.
Speaking to reporters in Malaysia, Ban said he will raise the issue at next week’s nuclear summit in Seoul.
While Kim’s regime says the April rocket launch and food deal are separate issues, the U.S. yesterday suspended efforts to recover remains in North Korea of thousands of its soldiers who died during the 1950-1953 Korean War, citing next month’s plan. The Obama administration had begun resuming an effort that was put on hold in 2005.
“When there are suggestions that they might launch ballistic missiles, when they make bellicose statements about South Korea and engage in actions that could be construed as provocative, we think that it’s not the right time to undertake this effort,” Pentagon spokesman Little said. “So we’re hopeful that we will get past this period and that we can continue the remains recovery effort.”
The two Koreas technically remain at war since the conflict ended without a peace treaty. North Korea, which has twice detonated a nuclear device, has more than 250 long-range artillery installations along the world’s most fortified border in reach of Seoul.