September 09, 2019 10:02
Washington is increasingly worried that failure to reach a denuclearization deal with North Korea will encourage a nuclear arms race among U.S. allies in the region.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun has raised the possibility of South Korea and Japan developing nuclear weapons if Washington's efforts to denuclearize Pyongyang end in failure.
In a lecture on Friday at the University of Michigan, Biegun quoted former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as warning that "we are working today to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but if that fails, we will respond to the proliferation challenges in Asia."
"Our allies, such as South Korea and Japan, have quit their nuclear weapons programs partly because of the extended deterrence they have in their alliance with the United States," he pointed out.
But he added that at some point they will start considering their own nuclear weapons if the North Korean nuclear threat continues. "I'm afraid Dr. Kissinger is right that North Korea will not be the last nuclear power in Asia if the international community fails to hold talks with the U.S.," he added.
Biegun's remarks can also be read as a warning to China to play a more active role in getting North Korea to return to the negotiating table unless it wants more nuclear-armed countries on its doorstep. He added that U.S. President Donald Trump will be actively seeking to achieve progress in North Korea denuclearization over the next year.
Quoting a Trump administration official, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. State Department is considering a new approach during the UN General Assembly starting Sept. 17 to put public pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
It said Washington "remains stymied in its efforts to coax Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, leading to mounting frustrations that time is running out while [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] has strengthened his position."
"During a private briefing on Capitol Hill last week, a senior Trump administration official told congressional staffers that U.S. officials were continuing to reach out to Pyongyang but had heard nothing back," it added.
Meanwhile, when asked whether the U.S. is willing to pull troops out of South Korea if North Korea scraps its nuclear weapons, Biegun said Washington would weigh many "strategic reconsiderations" if progress is made on all issues.
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