South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said Monday that his government would seek the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in the country amid the lingering threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program.
Kim’s remarks came on the heels of the communist regime’s revelation of its new uranium enrichment plant with some 2,000 centrifuges.
U.S. nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who toured North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex last week, said he had been shown an experimental light-water nuclear reactor that was still under construction and a new facility that contained “more than 1,000 centrifuges” that the North Koreans said were processing low-enriched uranium to fuel the new reactor.
Hecker said the North Koreans told him the facility contained 2,000 centrifuges. He said the facility seemed designed primarily for civilian nuclear power but could be easily converted to further process uranium to weapons grade.
The Stanford University scientist described the plant as modern and clean and said he was stunned at its sophistication.
“Through consultations at the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee, we will review the issue,” Kim said when he was asked by a ruling party lawmaker if the government is willing to consider reintroducing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.
On Oct. 8, Kim and Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed to institutionalize the Extended Deterrence Policy Committee, which will serve as a cooperation mechanism to enhance the effectiveness of extended deterrence provided by the United States.
Kim said Seoul and Washington are sharing “grave concerns” over the North’s claim of operating a facility for uranium enrichment, adding the two allies will “thoroughly prepare” their countermeasures.
Prompted by mounting concerns about the security of such weapons in the former Soviet Union, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) removed its nuclear stockpiles in September 1991.
Then-U.S. President George Bush announced that Washington would eliminate its entire worldwide inventory of ground-launched tactical nuclear weapons and would remove all nuclear weapons from surface ships and attack submarines.
Instead, the U.S. government has since pledged the provision of a nuclear umbrella to South Korea against North Korea’s nuclear ambition.
Some conservatives in South Korea, however, have argued that the Seoul government should ask the United States to bring back its tactical nuclear weapons on the South Korean territory, citing the longstanding impasse with North Korea’s nuclear ambition.
Stephen Bosworth, U.S. envoy to North Korea, who arrived in Seoul on Sunday, called the evidence of a new North Korean nuclear program “provocative.” “This is obviously a disappointing announcement. It is also another in a series of provocative moves,” said Bosworth, who is in the region to try and restart six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
He said new evidence showed North Korea to be in violation of a U.N. resolution and a September 2005 six-nation deal, under which the North agreed to end its nuclear program in return for aid, and diplomatic and security benefits.
North Korea, which conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, pulled out last year from the six-nation talks involving the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.