Washington approves massive arms sale

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Washington approves massive arms sale

U.S. President Donald Trump has approved the purchase of a massive inventory of weapons by South Korea, according to a White House statement on Monday.

Trump “provided his conceptual approval for the purchase of many billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and equipment from the United States by South Korea” during his phone conversation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday, the statement said.

The Blue House on Tuesday initially denied any such agreement took place, but quickly reversed its position.

“There was no talk about weapons sales,” a key Blue House official told reporters in Seoul earlier in the day.

But the story soon changed.

“The two leaders, during the their discussions, both recognized the necessity of boosting defense capabilities,” Blue House spokesman Park Soo-hyun later said in a statement, “including an early establishment of the South Korean military’s three-pillar system in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat.”

Park added, “To this end, the two leaders agreed that they will continue to discuss the United States supporting the introduction of advanced weapons and technologies needed by Korea.”

Trump’s approval could possibly hasten the South’s deployment of advanced military technology such as F-35 combat fighter jets, RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air interceptors.

These weapons can be integrated into South Korea’s three-pillar defense system, which includes the Kill Chain plan, Korea Air Missile Defense (KAMD) and Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan.

Kill Chain is a strike system designed to preemptively target North Korean missile sites, while KAMD focuses on terminal-phase, low-altitude missile defense and KMPR is designed to attack the North’s leadership if signs of a nuclear attack are detected.

For the effective operation of the Kill Chain system, the South’s military has to acquire intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets including reconnaissance satellites that can pre-emptively detect the North’s provocations. According to one Korean military official, “There is a need to upgrade the existing F-15 and F-16 fighters in order to enhance precision-strike capabilities.”

South Korea will also strengthen its military ties with the United States, the White House said in its statement, and possibly enhance its own missile capabilities.

The two leaders “agreed to maximize pressure on North Korea using all means at their disposal,” the statement said, adding that they “pledged to strengthen joint military capabilities” and that Trump gave “in-principle approval” to South Korea’s initiative to lift restrictions on its missile payload capabilities, along the lines of what was explained by Seoul.

“President Moon Jae-in’s large-scale arms sales request appears to be a means to bolster the South Korea-U.S. military alliance on the one side and a means of easing concerns of a U.S. trade deficit,” a diplomatic source said, “as President Trump recently signaled he may withdraw from the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement.”

BY JUNG HYO-SIK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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