Donald Trump Agrees South Korea Should Have Bigger Warheads to Face North Korea

Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump
President Donald Trump reaches to shake the hand of South Korea's President Moon Jae-in after making a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House June 30, in Washington, D.C. The two leaders spoke on September 1 and agreed to strengthen South Korea's missile capabilities. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has agreed to strengthen South Korea's military arsenal and revise the military agreement that limits the size of Seoul's missiles, according to a South Korean statement on Trump's call with President Moon Jae-in on Friday.

"Sharing the view that South Korea needs to bolster its defense capabilities to counter North Korea's provocations and threats, the two leaders agreed in principle to revise the missile guidelines to a level that the South Korean side desires," read a statement from President Moon's office, quoted in the country's news agency Yonhap.

Without explicitly mentioning the missile guidelines, the White House said the leaders "agreed to strengthen" their alliance and Seoul's defense capabilities and that Trump provided his "conceptual approval" of South Korea's purchase of American military equipment worth billions of dollars, without adding further details.

South Korea previously asked the U.S. to review the missile guidelines in a bid to double its firepower following rising threats from the North, which flew a ballistic missile over Japan's northern island of Hokkaido on Tuesday in its latest illegal test.

First stipulated in 1979 to contain a regional arms race, the missile guidelines have been revised only twice, in 2001 and 2012. The latest revision allowed Seoul to increase the maximum allowable missile range to 800km from the previous limit of 300km, and to load up to 500kg of warheads on the 800km-range missiles.

President Moon discussed doubling the weight limit to 1 ton of warheads with Trump when they met at the end of June, as reported in the South Korean press.

Moon is also pursuing a diplomatic route to contain the threat from North Korea. When he first became president in May he proposed meeting with Kim Jong Un for talks. The two countries technically remain at war since a truce agreed to end the 1950-1953 Korean War was never followed by a peace agreement.

Despite Pyongyang's snub of Moon's invitations for talks in July, the South Korean president continued to emphasize the importance of dialogue with its neighbor in the phone call with his American counterpart.

The South Korean statement on the call mentions that Trump and Moon "reaffirmed their view that it was important to have North Korea come out to the dialogue table to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue by applying maximum sanctions and pressure on the North."

The White House readout of the call does not mention dialogue, which would contradict one of Trump's tweet Wednesday about North Korea, in which he wrote that talking was "not the answer."

The statement, quoted in Reuters, said the two leaders "pledged to continue to apply strong diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea and to make all necessary preparations to deter and defend against the growing threat posed by North Korea."

The two leaders will speak face to face later this month on the sidelines the 72nd session of the U.N. General Assembly, the third meeting between them since Moon took office.