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Trump may offer tactical nukes to Seoul, says NBC

Park Geun-hye’s gov’t made such a request late last year: Sources
Sept 11,2017
As local lawmakers argue over the idea of bringing American tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, NBC News reported Friday that the Donald Trump administration wasn’t ruling out that option, citing an anonymous White House official.

The news came as the Blue House stresses that the allies have never discussed the issue, and that the Trump White House has never publicly mentioned a redeployment of nukes in South Korea after more than 25 years.

A Blue House official reiterated Sunday that the issue has never come up between the two allies and the South Korean government stands by its original position that U.S. tactical nukes would not be allowed on domestic soil.

In describing a package of diplomatic and military moves being considered by the White House, NBC News, citing a White House source, said, “The administration is not ruling out moving tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea should Seoul request them … though many consider such a move a nonstarter.”

That and other proposals, including cyber attacks and increased intelligence operations, were presented to Trump by his top national security advisers over lunch just hours after North Korea’s latest nuclear test on Sept. 3, said NBC.

Another option under consideration, according to the report, is the deployment of land-based Aegis SM-3 missile interceptors like those used for missile defense operations in Europe, White House and defense officials said.

In separate discussions with China, Washington officials are said to have made the case that if Beijing doesn’t take stronger steps against North Korea, like cutting off oil, “South Korea and Japan are likely to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs and the U.S. won’t stop them.”

A Blue House official who spoke on background told local reporters Sunday that Seoul wasn’t considering bringing back U.S. tactical nuclear weapons because doing so would completely undermine its own demand for the North to scrap its nuclear program.

“It could lead to a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia,” the official continued.

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.

Washington removed all tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in September 1991, when the countries jointly declared a vision for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea has since been protected by the United States’ nuclear umbrella.

After North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test, South Korean lawmakers, mostly from the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, have been urging the Moon Jae-in administration to bring back tactical nukes. Some members of the ruling Democratic Party echoed the call last week, with Rep. Jung Sung-ho saying that an “all-out” change to Seoul’s North Korea policy was needed.

Democratic Party Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae blasted the idea last Friday during a party Supreme Council meeting, saying it was a “horrible” thought that wouldn’t help solve the North Korea crisis at all.

“Arming ourselves with nukes would be acknowledging North Korea as a nuclear state,” said Choo. “History has taught us that responding to nuclear weapons with nuclear weapons, and to a hard-line policy with a hard-line policy will only hinder the building of peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

According to several military sources who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday, the former conservative Park Geun-hye administration asked Washington for tactical nuclear weapons late last year, but was rejected due to then-President Barack Obama’s push for denuclearization globally. The proposition was said to have been relayed by Cho Tae-yong, who at the time was deputy chief of South Korea’s National Security Council, to Daniel Kritenbrink, senior director for Asian affairs in Obama’s National Security Council.

One official in charge of military diplomacy between Seoul and Washington said that, in 2015 and 2016, both countries “deeply discussed” a type of nuclear weapons-sharing strategy that Washington is currently providing to member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

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