U.S. doesn’t want to bring back its nukes

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U.S. doesn’t want to bring back its nukes

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A B-1B strategic bomber, center, flies over Osan Air Base in Gyeonggi on Tuesday in a show of force accompanied by four South Korean Air Force F-15K fighter jets. [NEWSIS]

A U.S. official Tuesday opposed growing calls for a reintroduction of American tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea in the wake of Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test.

The objection by Sung Kim, the U.S.’s special envoy to the long-stalled six-party denuclearization talks, was the first such public rejection by Washington.

“I think both our leaders, and perhaps more importantly our military experts, have determined that there is no need to reintroduce nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula,” the U.S. diplomat told reporters after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Kim Hong-kyun in Seoul.

The U.S. official also noted Washington’s “unshakable commitment regarding extended deterrence.” He said a joint decision by the two allies to deploy the U.S.-operated advanced missile defense system, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system, was “more than sufficient to deal with the threat posed by North Korea.”

The former U.S. Ambassador to Korea also expressed Washington’s firm position to defend Seoul, describing the bilateral alliance as “truly one of the strongest” the U.S. has anywhere, saying it has “extended deterrence commitment to the Republic of Korea. In a show of force, the U.S. sent two nuclear-capable supersonic bombers to South Korea on Tuesday for a flyover from their air force base on Guam as a warning to Pyongyang to refrain from military provocations.

Two B-1B bombers appeared in the air above Osan Air Base, 64 kilometers (40 miles) south of Seoul, two hours after taking-off from the Anderson Air Force base in Guam, in an apparent demonstration of their capability to strike targets in the heart of North Korea in a matter of two hours. The dispatch of the two supersonic bombers to the peninsula came four days after North Korea’s fifth underground nuclear test, which prompted sharp condemnation from Seoul and its allies.

The bombers were scheduled to make the flight Monday but the plan was dropped due to unfavorable weather conditions. B-1B bombers are known as the U.S.’s heaviest supersonic strategic bombers and can fly twice as fast as the speed of sound. Washington’s decision to dispatch the two bombers was seen as a demonstration of its commitment to protect South Korea, where about 28,000 of its troops are stationed under the command of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).

USFK Commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks told reporters at Osan Air Base that the North’s nuclear test was a “dangerous escalation and poses an unacceptable threat.” General Brooks described the U.S.’s commitment to defend South Korea as “unshakable,” and said the flyover operation by the B-1B bombers and the joint decision by Seoul and Washington to deploy a U.S.-operated advanced missile defense system were among “necessary steps” to defend its ally.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, SARAH KIM [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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