S. Korea seeks OK to beef up mis­siles

It says U.S. open to talks on buildup

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Choe Sang-Hun, David E. Sanger, Chris Buck­ley and Scott Shane of The New York Times; and by Anna Fi­field of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States has agreed to start ne­go­ti­a­tions to al­low South Korea to build more pow­er­ful bal­lis­tic mis­siles to counter North Korea’s rapidly ad­vanc­ing mis­sile tech­nolo­gies, the of­fice of the South’s pres­i­dent said Sat­ur­day.

South Korea’s newly elected pres­i­dent, Moon Jaein, called for the re­lax­ation of lim­its on its mis­sile arse­nal hours af­ter North Korea launched an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile 2,200 miles into space that landed its war­head just off the coast of Hokkaido, the north­ern­most Ja­panese is­land.

Ex­perts quickly cal­cu­lated that the demon­strated range of that test shot, if flat­tened out over the Pa­cific Ocean, could eas­ily reach Los An­ge­les and per­haps as far as Chicago and New York, though its ac­cu­racy is in doubt.

Moon’s top na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Chung Eui-yong, called his White House coun­ter­part, Gen. H.R. McMaster, early Sat­ur­day to pro­pose that the al­lies im­me­di­ately start ne­go­ti­a­tions to per­mit South Korea to build up its mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties. McMaster agreed to the pro­posal, which would likely in­volve in­creas­ing the pay­load on South Korea’s bal­lis­tic mis­siles, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials in both coun­tries.

South Korea needs ap­proval from the U.S. to build more pow­er­ful mis­siles un­der the terms of a bi­lat­eral treaty.

There are still ques­tions over whether North Korea can shrink a nu­clear weapon to fit atop its in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­siles or keep them from burn­ing up on re-en­try into the at­mos­phere.

But at the Pen­tagon and in­side U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, there was a sense that the North had now crossed a thresh­old it has long sought: Demon­strat­ing that if the U.S. ever threat­ened the regime of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader and grand­son of the coun­try’s founder, the North has the abil­ity to threaten death and de­struc­tion in the con­ti­nen­tal United States.

The U.S. has lived with that threat from Rus­sia and China for decades, but the pre­vi­ous four U.S. pres­i­dents have all said the U.S. could

not take that risk with a gov­ern­ment as un­pre­dictable as North Korea’s.

The launch con­firmed sev­eral key tech­ni­cal ad­vances, show­ing the power of the mo­tors and the abil­ity of the mis­sile to sur­vive re-en­try into the Earth’s at­mos­phere, the North Korean state news agency re­ported.

It also “demon­strated the ca­pa­bil­ity of mak­ing sur­prise launch of ICBM in any re­gion and place any time, and clearly proved that the whole U.S. main­land is in the fir­ing range of the DPRK mis­siles,” the agency quoted Kim as say­ing.

U.S. OP­TIONS

Hours af­ter Fri­day’s test, for­mer U.S. of­fi­cials said Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s op­tions are lim­ited.

“In the White House you have a thresh­old de­ci­sion: Can you get them back to the ta­ble or not,” Mark Lip­pert, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s am­bas­sador to Seoul, said Sat­ur­day about ne­go­ti­at­ing with the North Kore­ans — a step Trump said dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, and again sev­eral months ago, that he was will­ing to try. Lip­pert said he sup­ports Wash­ing­ton’s cur­rent diplo­matic ef­forts as well as United Na­tions sanc­tions against North Korea.

Lip­pert, speak­ing at a con­fer­ence in Kent, Conn., said that bar­ring ne­go­ti­a­tions, “the ques­tion gets bi­nary pretty quick: con­tain­ment or some kind of mil­i­tary oper­a­tions.”

Oth­ers ques­tion whether the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, im­mersed in its own in­ter­nal up­heavals, can fo­cus on the prob­lem.

“It takes a pres­i­dent of the United States who has the in­tel­lec­tual, global and his­tor­i­cal depth” to deal with the Korean cri­sis, said R. Nicholas Burns, who served as un­der­sec­re­tary of state for po­lit­i­cal af­fairs in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Some be­lieve that the U.S. will sim­ply learn to live with the North’s new ca­pa­bil­ity, de­spite the words of Trump and his pre­de­ces­sors.

“We are left in a sit­u­a­tion where they be­lieve we will ul­ti­mately ac­qui­esce,” said Christo­pher Hill, an Amer­i­can diplo­mat who led nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea dur­ing the last Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, which re­sulted in the dis­man­tle­ment of part of a plu­to­nium re­ac­tor. Hill is now dean of the Kor­bel School at the Univer­sity of Den­ver.

Moon also or­dered his gov­ern­ment Sat­ur­day to co­op­er­ate with the U.S. to in­stall an ad­vanced U.S. mis­sile de­fense bat­tery. The pre­vi­ous South Korean gov­ern­ment had agreed to host the U.S. an­timis­sile sys­tem, and the de­ploy­ment was ex­pe­dited as it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that Moon, who had vowed dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign to re­view the process, was go­ing to win.

The radar and launch sys­tem, along with two launch­ers, had been de­ployed and was op­er­a­tional be­fore his elec­tion in May. But Moon pro­fessed anger when he dis­cov­ered that four ad­di­tional launch­ers had been moved into South Korea af­ter his elec­tion with­out his knowl­edge. Amer­i­can an­a­lysts said a full bat­tery con­sists of six launch­ers and that this had al­ways been the agree­ment.

But af­ter Fri­day night’s launch, Moon said he was will­ing to dis­cuss the “tem­po­rary” de­ploy­ment of the four ad­di­tional launch­ers.

Moon’s ac­tions sig­naled that the grow­ing mis­sile threat from North Korea was spurring an arms buildup in North­east Asia. Ja­pan ear­lier said it was con­sid­er­ing buy­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fense sys­tems from the United States.

But China has adamantly op­posed in­stalling the mis­sile de­fense sys­tem in South Korea, ar­gu­ing that it would only make ten­sions with North Korea more volatile and could un­der­mine China’s own nu­clear de­ter­rent by giv­ing the U.S. an­other means to mon­i­tor its mis­siles.

CHINA WEIGHS IN

On Sat­ur­day, the Chi­nese Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs con­demned the re­sumed de­ploy­ment of the mis­sile de­fense sys­tem.

“China is gravely con­cerned with the course of ac­tion taken by South Korea,” a spokesman for the For­eign Min­istry, Geng Shuang, said in the state­ment. “De­ploy­ing [the de­fense sys­tem] won’t solve South Korea’s se­cu­rity con­cerns, won’t solve the re­lated is­sues on the Korean Penin­sula and will only fur­ther com­pli­cate is­sues.”

The test Fri­day night left lit­tle doubt that North Korea, although cut off from most of the global econ­omy and hit with sev­eral rounds of U.N. sanc­tions, is get­ting closer to its goal of arm­ing it­self with long-range mis­siles that can de­liver nu­clear war­heads to the U.S.

“U.S. pol­icy for 21 years has been to pre­vent this day from com­ing, and now it has,” said Adam Mount, a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress in Wash­ing­ton, re­fer­ring to the North’s lat­est ICBM test. “North Korea didn’t test an ICBM to launch a bolt from the blue against Wash­ing­ton. They’re hop­ing to split the United States from its al­lies.”

North Korea first tested its ICBM, the Hwa­song-14, on July 4, although in that ear­lier launch­ing, it did not demon­strate the mis­sile’s full range.

“The U.S. trum­pet­ing about war and ex­treme sanc­tions and threat against the DPRK only em­bold­ens the lat­ter and of­fers a bet­ter ex­cuse for its ac­cess to nukes,” said Kim, the North’s leader, re­fer­ring to the coun­try’s of­fi­cial name, the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, af­ter watch­ing the mis­sile test Fri­day.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son on Fri­day reaf­firmed that the U.S. “will never ac­cept a nu­clear-armed North Korea nor aban­don our com­mit­ment to our al­lies and part­ners in the re­gion.”

At the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, Wash­ing­ton is urg­ing China and Rus­sia to agree to a new set of eco­nomic sanc­tions against North Korea, in­clud­ing se­verely cur­tail­ing the coun­try’s ac­cess to oil sup­plies from the out­side. China and Rus­sia sup­ply nearly all of North Korea’s oil im­ports and host tens of thou­sands of North Korean work­ers. The bulk of the work­ers’ earn­ings end up in the cof­fers of the North Korean lead­er­ship, ac­cord­ing to hu­man rights groups and de­fec­tors.

“As the prin­ci­pal eco­nomic en­ablers of North Korea’s nu­clear weapon and bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­vel­op­ment pro­gram, China and Rus­sia bear unique and spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity for this grow­ing threat to re­gional and global sta­bil­ity,” Tiller­son said.

AP/AHN YOUNG-JOON

Peo­ple at a rail­way sta­tion in Seoul, South Korea, watch Sat­ur­day as a tele­vi­sion news re­port shows North Korea’s lat­est test launch of an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

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