By Son Key-young
Korean officials have categorically denied as ``groundless'' Saturday's New York Times report that Seoul is seeking to secretly develop longer range ballistic missiles in violation of an agreement with Washington.
Defense and Foreign Affairs-Trade Ministry officials said that Seoul has nothing to hide because it has implemented its missile program, including tests in a fully transparent manner.
U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Stephen Bosworth refused to comment on the report, only noting, ``We don't discuss alleged intelligence reports that appeared in newspapers.''
A Korean official expressed profound displeasure with the report because it surfaced only three days before Seoul and Washington are scheduled to open talks on how to loosen the tight restrictions on Seoul's missile development. U.S. special advisor for non-proliferation Robert Einhorn will make a three-day visit to Seoul from Nov. 18 to launch discussions on missile non-proliferation issues.
In addition, the official said the reports made fabrications by saying, ``South Korea's missile ambitions prompted President Clinton to discuss the issue personally with President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea in July.'' He said that Clinton had not mentioned any concerns over Seoul's missile development program during his summit with Kim.
According to the report, South Korea conducted a short flight test of a new missile in April, which appeared to violate its agreement with the United States.
``That missile went only about 30 miles, but analysts believe the South Koreans did not fully fuel it to avoid a dispute with the United States, and say it may have a range of as much as 300 miles,'' the report reads.
So far, Seoul has refrained from launching research & development activities on missiles whose range exceeds 180 kilometers under a ``voluntary pledge.'' Seoul made the commitment on the condition that the United States offer them the technologies required for the development of Nike Hercules II missiles.
The official said that in the process of test firing the missile in April, Seoul had taken due actions, including sending ``notice to airmen and mariners.'
``Last April, we offered the United States full explanations and the United States also accepted our explanations,'' he said.
He stressed that the fired missile was not a longer range missile capable of flying distances of 300 miles but was a Nike Hercules II missile with a range of only 180 kilometers.
The official noted that Seoul's blind pursuit to lengthen the range of its missiles might not serve national interests.
With regards to the report on the construction of a test station, ``which includes a large concrete or tempered steel cradle in which rocket motors are locked for firing tests,'' the official also said that Korean military authorities had recently moved a missile test station from a fishing hamlet to an island because the tests have hampered fishermen from doing their job, causing them financial losses.
Therefore, the construction of new test equipment at the new test station is a natural course of action, he added.
However, the official noted that South Korea cannot be ``100-percent transparent'' on its missile development program. ``We are going to be transparent to a reasonable extent,'' he added.
So far, transparency has been the keyword in Korea-U.S. missile talks because officials in Washington have demanded access to each phase of Korea's missile development.
It is widely believed that Washington's tight control of Seoul's missile development program is designed to retain its vital interests in the trade of missiles on the international market.