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SKorea: Won't Seek Own Nuke Deterrent  08/17 06:03

   

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's president said Wednesday his 
government has no plans to pursue its own nuclear deterrent and called instead 
for more diplomacy in the face of growing North Korean nuclear weapons 
capabilities, even as the North test-fired two suspected cruise missiles.

   The launches were detected from North Korea's western coast hours before 
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol used a news conference to urge Pyongyang 
to return to diplomacy aimed at exchanging denuclearization steps for economic 
benefits.

   South Korea's military, which didn't reveal the launches until after Yoon's 
remarks, provided no immediate flight details about the North's weapons, 
including how they moved or how far they traveled.

   Yoon's office said his national security director, Kim Sung-han, discussed 
the launch with other senior officials before Yoon addressed reporters and that 
they reviewed the South's military readiness. Tensions could further rise as 
the United States and South Korea kick off their biggest combined training in 
years next week to counter the North Korean threat. The North describes such 
drills as invasion rehearsals and has often responded to them with missile 
tests or other provocations.

   Yoon during the news conference maintained a reserved tone on Pyongyang, 
saying Seoul doesn't desire political change in North Korea that's brought by 
force and that the rivals should aim at building sustainable peace.

   Yoon's comments followed his proposal on Monday for an "audacious" economic 
assistance package to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program. 
He has avoided harsh criticism of the North after it threatened "deadly" 
retaliation last week over a COVID-19 outbreak it blames on the South.

   Yoon's proposal for large-scale aid in food and healthcare and modernizing 
power and port infrastructure resembled previous South Korean offers that were 
rejected by North Korea, which is speeding its development of nuclear weapons 
and ballistic missiles, seen by leader Kim Jong Un as his strongest guarantee 
of survival.

   Still, Yoon expressed hope for "meaningful dialogue" with North Korea over 
his plan and stressed that Seoul is willing to provide corresponding economic 
rewards at each step of a phased denuclearization process if the North commits 
to a genuine "roadmap" toward fully abandoning its weapons program.

   "We are not telling them to 'denuclearize entirely first and then we will 
provide,'" Yoon said. "What we are saying is that we will provide the things we 
can in correspondence to their steps if they only show a firm determination 
(toward denuclearization)."

   Inter-Korean ties have worsened amid a stalemate in larger nuclear 
negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. that derailed in early 2019 
because of disagreements over a relaxation of crippling U.S.-led sanctions on 
the North in exchange for disarmament steps.

   North Korea has ramped up its missile testing to a record pace in 2022, 
launching more than 30 ballistic weapons so far, including its first 
intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.

   The heighted testing activity underscores North Korea's dual intent to 
advance its arsenal and force the United States to accept the idea of the North 
as a nuclear power so it can negotiate economic and security concessions from a 
position of strength, experts say. Kim could up the ante soon as there are 
indications that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since 
September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit 
on its ICBMs.

   While Kim's ICBMs get much of the international attention, North Korea is 
also expanding its range of nuclear-capable, short-range missiles that can 
target South Korea. Kim has punctuated his weapons development with threats to 
proactively use his nuclear weapons in conflicts against the South or the U.S., 
which experts say communicate an escalating nuclear doctrine that could 
increase concerns for its neighbors.

   Yoon has vowed to strengthen the South's defenses through its alliance with 
the United States by resuming large-scale military training that was canceled 
or downsized during the Trump years and boosting the South's missile defenses. 
The Biden administration has also reaffirmed U.S. commitments to defending 
South Korea and Japan, including "extended deterrence," referring to an 
assurance to defend its allies with its full military capabilities, including 
nuclear.

   But some experts say it's becoming clear South Korea has no clear way to 
counter the leverage North Korea has with its nukes, expressing concerns that 
Washington might hesitate to defend its ally in the event of war when Kim's 
ICBMs would pose a potential threat to mainland American cities.

   Some South Koreans have called for the reintroduction of tactical U.S. 
nuclear weapons that were removed from the South in the 1990s, or for Seoul to 
pursue its own deterrent.

   Yoon dismissed the possibility of the latter during the news conference, 
saying that Seoul will stay committed to an international treaty aimed at 
preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

   "I believe the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) regime is a very important and 
necessary premise for permanent world peace," Yoon said, expressing hope that 
the U.S. deterrence strategy for its allies could evolve to counter the North's 
growing threat.

   Yoon's comments came after North Korea last week claimed a widely disputed 
victory over COVID-19 but also blamed South Korea for the outbreak. North Korea 
insists leaflets and other objects flown across the border by activists spread 
the virus, an unscientific claim Seoul describes as "ridiculous."

   North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on South Korea when it 
doesn't get what it wants from the United States, and there are concerns that 
North Korea's threat portends a provocation, which could include a nuclear or 
missile test or even border skirmishes. Some experts say North Korea may stir 
up tensions around joint military exercises between the allies.

 
 
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