President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he has approved the sale of “sophisticated” arms to South Korea and Japan, but the South Korean defense minister’s suggestion of a return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula appears to be a non-starter.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis agreed with his South Korean counterpart Tuesday to bolster regular troop deployments and joint military exercises on the peninsula that have been denounced as provocations by the North, the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a statement.
On Aug. 30 at the Pentagon, South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said in talks with Mattis that the U.S. should consider returning tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula to deter North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Trump has not weighed in publicly on the issue.
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About 100 U.S. nuclear weapons, including artillery pieces, were removed from South Korea in 1991 under the administration of former President George H.W. Bush.
Song again raised the possibility of the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons after North Korea last weekend conducted an underground nuclear test of a weapon of such force that it may have been a hydrogen bomb.
However, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has consistently called for the denuclearization of the entire peninsula and held to the prospect of dialogue with the North to defuse the crisis.
On Tuesday, Moon’s office said the return of tactical nuclear weapons is a non-starter, The Washington Post reported.
“Our government’s firm stance on the nuclear-free peninsula remains unchanged,” said Kim Dong-jo, a spokesman for Moon.
In a Tweet early Tuesday, Trump said, “I am allowing Japan and South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States.”
He did not specify the types of weapons.
Earlier this year, South Korea approved the deployment of the U.S. Army THAAD anti-missile defense system on a former golf course south of Seoul but balked at the deployment of the full battery of six launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system pending an environmental study.
Two of the THAAD launchers have been in place and operational, and Moon has since approved the deployment of the full battery of six launchers.
As the U.S. and its allies considered a response, North Korea continued to boast of its accomplishments in setting off the massive explosion at its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility on Saturday (local time) and leveled more threats against the U.S.
“The U.S. is running amok to defame the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], taking issue with our measures to bolster the self-defensive nuclear force,” a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement to one of the North’s propaganda outlets, the Korean Central News Agency.
“No one has the right to make a fuss about our test of an H-bomb,” or the development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, the spokesman said.
“We will respond to the heinous sanctions and pressure of the U.S. with our own mode of counteroffensive, and the U.S. shall be held totally responsible for all catastrophic consequences to follow,” the spokesman said.
South Korea has warned of another possible test launch of an ICBM by the North later this month or in early October.
The U.S. has pressed at the United Nations for more sanctions against North Korea, but it is unclear whether the Security Council would approve.
On Monday at the U.N., U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the North appeared to be “begging for war” with its nuclear tests and claims to have miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit on an ICBM.
On Tuesday, Haley said at the American Enterprise Institute that additional sanctions might not have an immediate effect but would put more pressure on the North.
“Do we think more sanctions are going to work on North Korea? Not necessarily,” she said. “But what does it do? It cuts off the revenue that allows them to build more ballistic missiles.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We’re going to continue to push for a safer and denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and that’s the priority here.”
She repeated the Trump administration mantra, “All options are on the table.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who holds veto power at the United Nations, said that more sanctions are “a road to nowhere” and warned against “military hysteria” over North Korea’s recent actions that could lead to war.
“Ramping up military hysteria in such conditions is senseless; it’s a dead end,” Putin told reporters in Xiamen, China, where he was attending a “BRICS” summit bringing together the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“It could lead to a global, planetary catastrophe and a huge loss of human life. There is no other way to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, save that of peaceful dialogue,” he said.
In a sign of increasing tension between the U.S. and its South Korean ally, South Korea’s Moon was to meet Wednesday with Putin at an economic forum in Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast to discuss boosting trade and ties between the two countries.
“I believe our two nations must move forward from now to have a much greater dream,” Moon said in an interview with Russia’s TASS news agency. “We must seek cooperation projects aimed at ensuring peace and prosperity not only on the Korean Peninsula and the Far East, but also in Northeast Asia and Eurasia.”
Amid the crisis with the North, South Korea has been rattled by Trump’s threats to cancel a trade deal and his charges that South Korea’s openness to dialogue with the North could be seen as “appeasement.”
Last Saturday, Trump said in a Tweet, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”
According to the website 38 North, a program of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies that focuses on North Korea’s military, the explosion at the Punggye-ri site in North Korea on Saturday (local time) was about eight times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, and about six times that of the fifth test conducted at Punggye-ri on Sept. 9, 2016.
The initial report from the U.S. Geological Survey said the explosion was measured at 5.2 on the Richter scale, but the Survey quickly upgraded the event to magnitude 6.3.