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South Korea gets deal to increase range of its missiles

South Korea has reached a deal with the United States to extend the range of its missiles to cover all of North Korea. The move is expected to raise tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang.

South Korea's national security advisor said the deal would allow the country's military to deploy missiles with a range of up to 800 kilometers (500 miles).

"The biggest purpose of the revision is to deter military provocations by North Korea," Chun Yung-Woo told reporters in the capital, Seoul.

Chun added that the two sides had agreed to maintain the maximum payload for the missiles at 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds). A defense ministry official said warheads of this size were powerful enough to destroy or seriously damage several soccer stadiums at one time.

The South Korean government needed the US to agree to the change, due to an agreement it signed in 2001. Seoul is one of 34 signatories to the Missile Technology Control Regime, which had restricted it to deploying rockets of a maximum range of 300 kilometers. Seoul accepted the restrictions in its missiles in return for a US “umbrella” against a possible nuclear attack from the North. The US has more than 28,000 troops stationed in the South.

There was no immediate comment on Sunday's agreement from Washington, but US officials have previously said that South Korea merits special conditions due to the threat posed by the North.

Seoul says it has intelligence that suggests that Pyongyang has about 1,000 missiles, all of which are capable of hitting all of South Korea. The extension announced on Sunday means that Seoul now has the missile capability to hit targets all over North Korea. The extension also brings parts of Japan and China to within range of South Korean missiles.

North and South Korea remain technically at war despite a truce that ended their 1950-53 conflict. Six-party talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program ground to a halt four years ago.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula rose in April, after a failed rocket launch by the North. Pyongyang said the test was part of research aimed at putting a satellite into orbit. However, both Washington and Seoul expressed suspicions that it was actually part of a move to upgrade its ballistic missile technology.

pfd/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)