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North Korea Crisis: South Not Discussing U.S. Nukes, Foreign Minister Says

The United States withdrew its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 as part of its worldwide nonproliferation efforts.
Protesters shout slogans during a rally against the deployment of America's THAAD missile defense system in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday.Ahn Young-Joon / AP

Faced with the rapid progress of Kim Jong Un's weapons program, some South Korean officials have called for American tactical nuclear weapons to be redeployed in their country.

The South Korean foreign minister appeared to pour cold water on this idea, however, telling a press conference Monday that this wasn't an option being looked at by Seoul and Washington.

"We have not discussed the issue with the U.S.," Kang Kyung-wha told a briefing, according to a translation by the Associated Press. "It is difficult to talk about a hypothetical situation, but South Korea and the U.S. have been closely cooperating on all matters, and we will continue to do so in the future."

Image: Kang Kyung-Wha
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-WhaJung Yeon-Je / AFP - Getty Images

The United States withdrew its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991 as part of its worldwide nonproliferation efforts and to try to persuade North Korea to reduce its nuclear program.

It still defends South Korea and non-nuclear Japan under a so-called nuclear umbrella, the idea that it would launch a devastating counterattack against any would-be aggressor.

Recent advances in the North's weapons program have led some to call for this withdrawal to be reversed.

Under Kim, the country appeared to test its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb and has test-fired intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Even though South Korea's foreign minister said redeploying American nukes wasn't being discussed, the country's defense minister said that "some South Korean lawmakers and media are strongly pushing" for that option.

Song Young-moo told a parliamentary hearing that he had discussed the possibility with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last week, according to the AP.

Sen. John McCain told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that this "ought to be seriously considered."

The official Pentagon response declined to outline current American position on the matter.

"We work closely with our allies but it is always inappropriate to discuss the locations of our nuclear arsenal, or the topics of closed-door discussions," spokesman Col. Rob Manning said.