Defense Minister in Gaffe Over U.S. Strategic Weapons

By Jun Hyun-suk | March 09, 2018 09:49

Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Thursday told U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Scott Swift in Seoul that the U.S. can keep its strategic weapons at home during the upcoming annual joint drills.

The gaffe, later glossed as a joke by the ministry, came during a meeting with the commander in Seoul.

The joint military drills were originally scheduled to take place in February, but were postponed until after the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Pyeongchang. U.S. media cited Pentagon officials on Thursday as saying the drills will begin on April 1 and last until May.

Song told Swift, who is scheduled to retire in May, "An inter-Korean summit is scheduled to take place at the end of April, while the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises will continue, so I hope you will remain in your position until then. You don't have to deploy extended deterrence assets like nuclear submarines to the Korean Peninsula."

Song was referring to B-1B strategic bombers, aircraft carriers and nuclear attack submarines that have been deployed recently every time North Korea launched a fresh provocation.

Defense Minister Song Young-moo (right) meets with Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, in Seoul on Thursday. /Yonhap

But after a recent visit to North Korea, a senior South Korean delegation returned to report that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might be willing to talk about ending his nuclear program "should the safety of its regime be guaranteed and military threats against it removed."

Kim also said that he would not oppose the joint drills if they "would be of a similar scale seen in previous years."

President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump last September agreed to expand their deployment, a decision that came amid growing calls from South Koreans to redeploy U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea.

A high-ranking Defense Ministry official tried to diffuse criticism by claiming that Song was "joking."

But the official declined to comment when asked if the same number of U.S. strategic weapons will be taking part in this year's joint military drills. 

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