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(LEAD) S. Korea denies seeking redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons

All Headlines 16:10 November 23, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with presidential official's remarks, details; AMENDS headline)

SEOUL, Nov. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Tuesday denied it was considering redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on its territory, watering down a sensitive remark by its defense chief who raised the possibility a day ago.

In response to North Korea's revelation of a new uranium enrichment facility, Defense Minister Kim Tae-yong had raised the possibility on Monday, telling a lawmaker who asked if South Korea would consider such redeployment that the government "will review what you said."

"South Korea and the U.S. have not discussed redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons," a senior official at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said. "And the issue is not a subject of discussion."

"Our aim is to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, and that will not change," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

The defense minister made the comment as North Korea was upping the ante in its nuclear gambit by showing visiting U.S. scientists what it claimed was a new uranium enrichment facility equipped with some 2,000 centrifuges.

Uranium is an alternative means to plutonium in making nuclear bombs.

The U.S., who had fought on the South Korean side against the invading North in the 1950-53 Korean War, had tactical nuclear weapons stationed in the South until their withdrawal in 1991 as part of its disarmament initiative.

Just months after the announcement of the withdrawal, South and North Korea also signed an agreement on banning activities for nuclear arms development on their soil. The agreement, called the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, came into force in 1992.

"Redeploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea would cross the line of the denuclearization policy on the Korean Peninsula," Deputy Defense Minister Chang Kwang-il told reporters earlier in the day.

Chang said the defense minister's comment had been taken out of context and meant that South Korea could consult with the U.S. with "all possible options" on the table.

He said South Korea, however, has not considered asking the U.S. to bring back its nuclear weapons since their withdrawal.

"There has been no consideration about redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear arms and there has been no consultation with the U.S. over the issue," Chang said.

The nuclear weapons, previously deployed at 16 military installations here five years after the end of the Korean War, were designed to be put atop missiles or artillery warheads as a deterrent against North Korea.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the three-year-long war.


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