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Blue House walks back Song’s remarks on deploying nukes

Sept 06,2017
The Blue House scrambled to retract National Defense Minister Song Young-moo’s remarks on Monday about Seoul possibly bringing back tactical nuclear weapons from the United States, accusing local media of taking the comments out of context.

“It’s not the government’s stance” to deploy them on domestic soil, a senior Blue House official said Tuesday, in response to a flood of media reports that South Korea might consider arming itself with American nukes after more than 25 years. “From the national defense minister’s point of view, he was trying to listen to the various anxious voices from the ruling and opposition parties.”

Moon Sang-kyun, spokesman of the Defense Ministry, stressed in a regular briefing Tuesday that the minister’s remarks were misconstrued, saying Song had meant to say that “all options” were on the table in dealing with the North Korea threat, but that a “realistic solution” had to be found.

During an urgent briefing with lawmakers on the parliamentary National Defense Committee on Monday, when a lawmaker asked whether Seoul was considering the deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, Song replied it “could be one option,” but quickly added that the allies “will have to give further thought” to that idea because it was a “difficult” issue.

The meeting was held a day after North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear experiment, which Song said had a yield of about 50 kilotons, or nearly five times more powerful than the country’s most previous nuclear experiment on Sept. 9, 2016.

Washington removed all tactical atomic weapons from South Korea in September 1991 under the Roh Tae-woo administration, when both countries jointly declared their vision for a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea has since been protected by the United States’ nuclear umbrella, which ensures the South will be protected with nuclear weapons when in need.

A tactical nuclear weapon, which is designed to be used against battlefield targets, generally travels across short ranges and carries a low-yield warhead. A strategic nuclear weapon, on the other hand, has a high-yield warhead, travels far distances and is aimed at military bases or a city in a premeditated war plan.

One remark Song made Monday that his staff has not denied, however, is that South Korea is open to the idea of deploying U.S. nuclear warheads, transported by U.S. aircraft in case a war erupts on the Korean Peninsula, similar to what Washington is providing member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The Defense Ministry also denied North Korea has reduced the weight of its nuclear warhead below 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) and is capable of fitting it atop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a comment relayed by Song during the parliamentary briefing.

Their chief had left out a crucial part of the story.

Song meant to say, according to the ministry, that based on the photos North Korea released Sunday through its state-run media, what looked like a nuclear warhead appeared to be light and small enough to be placed atop an ICBM. But one problem is that the military does not know whether it was real.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, LEE CHUL-JAE [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]