August 01, 2017 11:46
Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Monday that South Korea is "ready to review" the plans to build nuclear-powered submarines in the face of the growing military threat from North Korea.
President Moon Jae-in said during his election campaign that the time has come for South Korea to acquire its own nuclear-powered submarine and vowed to hold talks with the U.S. about the prospect.
Song was speaking in an emergency National Assembly meeting following the North's surprise launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Friday. But he added South Korea is not considering building its own nuclear bomb although it has the technology and resources to do so.
Calls to build a nuclear submarine are nothing new, but the obstacle is an agreement with the U.S. that prohibits South Korea from obtaining and possessing weapons-grade plutonium. Experts say it would take at least 10 to 15 years for South Korea to deploy such submarines even if research and development starts immediately.
Asked by lawmakers if North Korea has completed development of tactical nuclear weapons, Song said, "Even if North Korea completed development of an ICBM, it is difficult to determine whether it has the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on the ICBM.
But he said North Korea' missiles have crossed a "red line" laid down by Seoul and Washington that could trigger a military response. "We believe that the range has fully reached the threat level [of reaching the U.S. mainland] and went beyond the threshold."
He said Seoul remains committed to its two-track strategy of balancing pressure and attempts to engage North Korea. "Even in war, we must communicate with the enemy," he said.
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