Cautious stand by U.S. over redeploying nukes

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Cautious stand by U.S. over redeploying nukes

North Korea’s latest disclosures regarding its nuclear programs are casting a darker cloud over the peninsula - made even worse by the North’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island yesterday - but the U.S. is taking a cautious approach not to concede more than is needed to what it suspects is a “publicity stunt.”

Washington ruled out redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on South Korea, at least in the near future, a possibility raised by South Korean Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young as a deterrence against the North’s growing nuclear threat.

Pyongyang disclosed over the weekend that it is equipping itself with a further capability to produce nuclear weapons, beyond its existing plutonium-based weapons.

“The U.S. and our international partners are consulting on what steps to take in light of this new information,” U.S. Defense Department spokesman Dave Lapan told reporters on Monday. “So I’d say it’s premature to talk about any specific steps.”

Kim, answering a question at a National Assembly session on Monday, said that he would consider discussing the U.S. bringing back tactical nuclear weapons in an upcoming meeting between Seoul and Washington defense chiefs. In 1991, with the end of the Cold War, the U.S. withdrew nuclear weapons in the South.

A high-ranking official at the National Defense Ministry said yesterday that Kim’s comments were taken out of context, in that they were meant only to say that the issue would be a point of consultation with the U.S. on the North’s nuclear threat.

The official said the government will not talk about the redeployment of U.S. nuclear weapons because discussing the issue counters efforts to denuclearize the peninsula.

The U.S. and South Korea dispatched their top envoys to coordinate a reaction with Japan and China after a report by Siegfried Hecker, nuclear scientist at Stanford University, that showed that the North is operating a uranium enrichment facility with 2,000 centrifuges and a small but modern experimental light-water reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear site.

Additional UN sanctions are being discussed as a possible reaction to the North’s uranium enrichment move, seen as a breach of UN resolutions banning its nuclear activities. A UN source said the UN needs time to analyze the situation. “The issue requires sufficient discussion,” the source said.


By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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