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South Korea politician says Seoul should prepare its own nuclear arsenal

Nam Kyung-pil says U.S. attitudes about defense spending means South Korea may need to develop its own nuclear deterrent.

By Elizabeth Shim
South Korea politician says Seoul should prepare its own nuclear arsenal
A South Korean official points to North Korea's northeastern county of Kilju, where the country conducted its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9. More politicians in South Korea are calling for Seoul to develop nuclear weapons in response to provocations and potential changes in U.S. policy. Photo by Yonhap/UPI

SEOUL, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- A South Korean politician who is weighing a presidential run is calling for Seoul to develop its own nuclear weapons.

Nam Kyung-pil, the governor of South Korea's most populous Gyeonggi Province, told Yonhap on Monday Seoul should consider building its own nuclear arsenal not only because of North Korea provocations, but also because of the U.S. political climate.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had previously suggested countries like South Korea and Japan should be developing their own nuclear deterrent in the face of growing North Korea provocations.

Trump has also said he would consider withdrawing U.S. troops from Asia as well as pulling out of mutual defense treaties like NATO.

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Nam said U.S. policy could change very quickly "if Trump wins," but also added, "even if Trump is not elected, American public opinion has changed a lot, and this issue will be raised again in U.S. politics."

Another concern, Nam said, is the possibility of a new strategy that has not been pursued by the Obama administration, entailing the recognition of Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons state and replacing the 1953 armistice with a permanent peace treaty.

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North Korea had said in May its proposed peace treaty was "snubbed" by the United States.

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Washington has agreed to talks with North Korea, but only on the condition Pyongyang is willing to commit to denuclearization.

But changes after President Barack Obama ends his second term could lead to a new North Korea policy, Nam said, including the "withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear security umbrella" from countries like South Korea and Japan.

Nam also said Seoul should seek the accelerated restitution of wartime operational control, also known as OPCON, currently under the U.S. Command in South Korea.

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In 2014, Seoul and Washington agreed to postpone the transfer of OPCON to South Korea after Seoul requested postponement several times, beginning in 2007.

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