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(LEAD) Trump appears to be backing off from suggestion of nuclear S. Korea

All News 04:17 April 01, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with White House official's remarks in last 3 paras)

WASHINGTON, March 31 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump appeared to be backing off from an earlier stance that he's open to allowing South Korea and Japan to develop nuclear weapons to cope with threats from North Korea.

During a townhall meeting televised on MSNBC on Wednesday night, a moderator said Trump had talked about "South Korea and Japan maybe having to develop their own nuclear weapons capabilities."

Trump denied that's what he said.

"No, what I said is, 'I'll keep it the way it is but they have to pay their fair share,'" he said, referring to his long-running argument that the U.S. has been defending wealthy nations in exchange for little and those countries should pay more for the protection.

Trump first broached the nuclear armament idea in an interview published Friday, arguing that the U.S. is no longer rich enough to defend other countries and the possibility of allowing the allies to go nuclear is something that "we have to talk about."

He repeated the point again during a town hall meeting televised on CNN Tuesday night.

The White House rejected Trump's idea as destabilizing and directly contrary to the U.S. policy.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes denounced Trump's idea as catastrophic.

"The entire premise of American foreign policy on nuclear weapons for the last 70 years is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states," Rhodes said Thursday. "It would be catastrophic if the United States shifted its position to somehow support adding nuclear weapons to additional countries."

Rhodes also reaffirmed Washington's "rock-solid security assurances" to its allies.


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