- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006


U.S. and South Korean defense chiefs disagreed yesterday over how explicitly the United States should say that South Korea is under the protective “umbrella” of America’s nuclear arsenal.

The North’s recent underground nuclear test has heightened the South Koreans’ concerns about the future of their defense relationship with the United States — a relationship that is undergoing major change as the U.S. reduces the number of its ground troops in South Korea and pulls troops farther from the North Korean border area.

A South Korean delegation led by Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung tried to persuade Pentagon officials yesterday to issue a public statement that if the North attacked the South with nuclear weapons, the United States would retaliate as if U.S. territory itself had been attacked by nuclear weapons.

U.S. officials resisted, saying that would go beyond what the U.S. normally says publicly about how it would respond with regard to nuclear weapons. For decades, U.S. policy has been deliberately designed to include some ambiguity about the circumstances under which it would use nuclear arms.

Japan is covered by a similar U.S. “umbrella” promise. U.S. officials have restated this commitment to both countries in the days following the North Korean nuclear test, in part to tamp down any enthusiasm in Seoul or Tokyo for reconsidering their commitment not to build a Japanese or South Korean nuclear bomb.

At a news conference with Mr. Yoon yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld noted that a public statement is issued each year following U.S.-South Korean defense talks and that it always reaffirms the provision of a nuclear umbrella for South Korea, consistent with the 1954 U.S.-South Korean defense treaty.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he was unaware of any proposal to change the language, “nor can I imagine how it could be improved upon.”

Mr. Yoon responded by saying the matter had been discussed extensively in a series of meetings this week and that he hoped the language on U.S. nuclear protection for South Korea would be different than in years past.

“Oh, do you?” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Yoon said in his meetings with Mr. Rumsfeld that the statement should be more explicit about U.S. nuclear assurances, according to two American officials who participated in the talks and who would discuss the matter only on the condition of anonymity.

At the time of the Rumsfeld-Yoon news conference, the statement had not been completed or made public, but the U.S. officials said the language on U.S. nuclear assurances had been settled. The officials said the language would not include the provisions sought by the South Koreans.

The officials said the statement would say, in this regard, that Mr. Rumsfeld “offered assurances of firm U.S. commitment and immediate support to the Republic of Korea, including continuation of the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, consistent with the mutual defense treaty.”

That is roughly the same as the statement issued after last year’s meeting, which said, “Rumsfeld reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the security of the Republic of Korea and to the continued provision of a nuclear umbrella for the Republic of Korea, consistent with the mutual defense treaty.”

The United States intervened on the South’s behalf when the North invaded in June 1950. The two sides fought to a standstill and the conflict ended with the signing of an armistice in July 1953. U.S. forces have remained in the South ever since.

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