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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 01:39 GMT
US prepares arms deal with Seoul
North Korea is likely to be angered by the move
The US Department of Defense says it is planning to sell a sophisticated anti-aircraft system to South Korea.

The sophisticated Aegis warship defence system - built by Lockheed Martin - may be destined for use by destroyers in the South Korean Navy.

South Korean solider (l) and North Korean soldier (r) on the Korean border
The two Koreas are very different
The move is expected to anger communist North Korea.

A department statement to the American Congress said the deal would help protect an important Asian ally from what it described as a growing missile threat from North Korea.

The system allows warships to track and shoot down more than 100 enemy aircraft at the same time.

The Pentagon said the move would "contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by significantly improving the defence capabilities and security of a key defence treaty ally".

Last year, Washington refused to sell a similar system to Taiwan but approved a less sophisticated weapons package instead, despite protests from China.

Strained relations

A major Aegis sale to South Korea is likely to draw protests from the communist administration in North Korea.

Relations between Washington and the hard-line regime in Pyongyang have often been strained, especially since President George Bush described North Korea - together with Iraq and Iran - as part of an "axis of evil" in his speech to Congress in January.

The US special envoy to North Korea, Charles Pritchard, met the country's permanent representative to the United Nations, Pak Gil-yon, on Wednesday - the first time since President Bush's now infamous speech.

The two sides agreed to have more meetings, but the Pyongyang administration has not yet responded to the offer of talks at a higher level.

North Korea has recently threatened to withdraw from an agreement to freeze its nuclear arms programme, in response to reports that Washington is drawing up plans for the possible use of nuclear weapons against the country.

See also:

14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea threatens nuclear pull-out
19 Feb 02 | Media reports
N Korea attacks 'junket of war'
06 Feb 02 | Americas
Analysis: The 'axis of evil' debate
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
China protests over arms for Taiwan
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