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Seoul to extend range of missiles in deal with U.S.

| Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, 7:32 p.m.

SEOUL — South Korea said on Sunday that it would nearly triple the range of its ballistic missiles, allowing it to strike all parts of North Korea and a sliver of China, under a new deal with the United States.

The bilateral agreement, after nearly two years of negotiations, frees Seoul to develop and use significantly more muscular missile technology at a time of steady concern about the belligerent North.

Conservatives here had bristled for years that Seoul was unable to even approach the North's ballistic missile range, but Washington and others in the region have long used weapons-limiting pacts to prevent an arms race.

Under the new deal, South Korea can extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 497 miles, up from the previous 186 miles. That means that the South can conceivably strike even the northernmost tip of North Korea, as well as parts of northeast China. The previous restrictions were part of the voluntary multi-nation Missile Technology Control Regime, which Seoul entered in 2001.

In addition, the deal allows greater load weights for South Korean unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones. Such vehicles are commonly used for surveillance but could be used in combat.

Security experts in Seoul say this deal takes a modest step to close the technology gap with the North, an authoritarian police state that devotes as much as one-quarter of its gross national product to the military. In recent years, the North has attempted to launch several satellites, which are attached to rockets that employ long-range missile technology.

The latest launch, in April, ended in failure, with the Unha-3 rocket breaking up after about 90 seconds of flight. But former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last year that the North could develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States by 2016.

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