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U.S. may move strategic assets to South Korea

Aug 30,2017
Washington and Seoul’s top security advisers discussed deploying heavier U.S. firepower to the Korean Peninsula to deter Pyongyang following the North’s latest ballistic missile launch on Tuesday.

Chung Eui-yong, chief of the National Security Office, and U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster held a 15-minute phone conversation at 8:50 a.m., a few hours after North Korea’s missile launch shortly before 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

The two discussed the deployment of U.S. strategic assets to South Korea, “along with a wide scope of ways to effectively deter North Korea,” according to the Blue House in a statement, as well as the implementation of additional UN Security Council sanctions.

Such U.S. strategic assets could include B-1B strategic bombers, according to military officials here, B-52 Stratofortress bombers, F-35 stealth fighter jets, Aegis-equipped destroyers, nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

Last month, the U.S. Air Force flew two B-1B Lancer bombers over the Korean Peninsula from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam in a show of force after North Korea conducted its second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test in July. They were accompanied by South Korean F-15K Slam Eagle fighters as they flew over the Pilsung range in Gangwon.

The phone conversation followed a meeting of South Korea’s National Security Council at 7 a.m., during which President Moon Jae-in ordered the military to demonstrate its strong punishment capability against North Korea. Moon did not personally attend the meeting.

First Vice Minister Lim Sung-nam held talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan in Washington and said that Seoul asked for a doubling of the payloads allowed on South Korean ballistic missiles from the current 500 kilograms (0.55 ton) to 1 ton. He told reporters after the talks held Monday that the U.S. is also “reviewing this positively.”

“We confirmed that the U.S. side takes into positive consideration fundamentally revising Korea-U.S. missile guidelines,” Lim told reporters in Washington after the talks on Monday. “We determined that the United States is also aware of the need to [revise the missile guidelines] as soon as possible in a satisfactory manner.”

He said that the two sides held “deep consultations” over the matter and the details will be discussed in the talks between Defense Minister Song Young-moo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon Wednesday.

President Moon Jae-in has asked President Donald Trump previously for cooperation in revising the current bilateral missile guidelines, which prohibit Seoul from developing a ballistic missile with a range of over 800 kilometers and a payload of over 500 kilograms.

Seoul wants to raise the payload cap to 1,000 kilograms.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense said Tuesday the government decided to increase next year’s defense budget 6.9 percent from this year to 43.1 trillion won amid North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. This would include allocating some 500 billion won for the development of its key strategic assets to help deter North Korea, including its Hyunmoo ballistic missiles, which are core elements of its three-pillar defense system.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]