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May 30, 2017

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S. Korea announces deal to hike missile range

SEOUL--South Korea Sunday announced a deal with the United States to almost triple the range of its missiles to cover the whole of North Korea — a move likely to infuriate Pyongyang.

The agreement will allow the South to deploy missiles with a range of 800 kilometers (500 miles), up from the current limit of 300 kilometers, National Security Adviser Chun Yung-woo told reporters.

"The biggest purpose of the revision is curbing military provocations by North Korea," Chun said.

The extension will not only bring the whole of North Korea within reach of Seoul's rockets, but also parts of China and Japan.

The U.S. stations 28,500 troops in South Korea and guarantees a nuclear "umbrella" in case of any atomic attack. In return, Seoul accepts limits on its missile capabilities.

An agreement signed with the U.S. in 2001 — the year South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) — restricted Seoul to rockets with a range of 300 kilometers and a payload of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds).

Given the ambitions of nuclear-armed North Korea's own missile program, the South has long argued for the limits to be extended. Negotiations took on a new urgency after the North's failed rocket launch in April.

Pyongyang insisted its aim was to put a satellite into orbit, but the U.S. and its allies saw the attempted launch as a disguised long-range missile test banned under U.N. resolutions.

Chun said the new deal, which will take the range of South Korea's missiles well beyond MTCR limits, was aimed at "securing a more comprehensive response to missile threats" by the North.

Seoul believes Pyongyang has 1,000 missiles of various types, many of them targeted at the capital or other locations in the South.

The maximum payload for the maximum 800-kilometer range will remain at 500 kilograms, but Chun stressed the two parameters were inversely linked, so that for shorter ranges corresponding payload increases would be allowed.

A 500-kilogram warhead would be powerful enough to destroy or damage the equivalent of several dozen soccer stadiums at one time, Shin Won-sik, a Seoul defense ministry official, told reporters.

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