By Jung Sung-ki
A senior U.S. military officer here said the United States would consult with South Korea to revise guidelines restricting Seoul's missile technology, according to officials of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Tuesday.
Marine Forces Korea Commander Maj. Gen. Frank Panter made the remarks during a meeting with chief secretaries to lawmakers belonging to the National Assembly's defense committee, they said.
The meeting was held July 2 at the Yongsan Garrison at the invitation of USFK Commander Gen. Walter Sharp, the officials said.
Asked about the issue, Panter said if South Korea proposes to revise guidelines on missile capabilities, it could be a topic of the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) slated for later this month, a USFK official said, requesting not to be identified.
Amid growing concern about North Korea's increasing asymmetrical capability in missile and nuclear programs, calls have grown in South Korea to revise a 2001 agreement that prevents Seoul from building missiles with ranges exceeding 300 kilometers.
After North Korea test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile rocket April 5, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo said, ``We should review if it is right or not that our missile sovereignty is restricted.''
Han suggested the issue be discussed at the SCM as a main item on the agenda.
South Korea restricted its missile range to 180 kilometers in a 1979 agreement with the United States, which in return offered technology to support Seoul's prescribed missile systems.
Wary of advances in North Korean missile capabilities, Seoul notified Washington in 1995 that it wished to adjust these restrictions.
After five years of consultations, the two sides agreed on new guidelines which permit the range of Seoul's missiles to 300 kilometers. At the same time, the U.S. declared it would support South Korea's membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
The MTCR is an informal and voluntary regime of more than 30 countries that seeks to limit missile proliferation by restricting exports of missiles having a range of 300 kilometers or more, and capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload.
Right after North Korea test-fired several missiles in 2006, including a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, South Korea's defense minister announced an intention to develop a long-range cruise missile, which doesn't violate the MTCR because that regime only applies to high-velocity, free-flight ballistic missiles, and excludes slower, surface-skimming cruise weapons.
South Korea's state-funded Agency for Defense Development is believed to have developed a 1,500-kilometer-range cruise missile, but government authorities have neither confirmed nor denied the development.
Last Saturday, Pyongyang test-fired seven short- and medium-range missiles off the eastern coast. Military authorities said the missiles had a range of between 400 and 500 kilometers.
North Korea is believed to have deployed more than 600 Scuds with a range of 320-500 kilometers and 200 Rodongs with a range of 1,300 kilometers near the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas.
The reclusive state is also believed to be pushing ahead with the development of a 6,700-kilometer-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting parts of the United States.