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U.S. ambassador: Korean nuclear proliferation 'irresponsible, dangerous'

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg, meeting with journalists Tuesday in Seoul, called the proliferation of tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula "irresponsible and dangerous." Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg, meeting with journalists Tuesday in Seoul, called the proliferation of tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula "irresponsible and dangerous." Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Amid rising provocations from Pyongyang and a call from some in Seoul to redeploy nuclear arms, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea said Tuesday that any talk of expanding the use of tactical nuclear weapons was "irresponsible and dangerous."

Ambassador Philip Goldberg made the remarks during a conference organized by a South Korean journalists' group in downtown Seoul. The diplomat was asked about U.S. Forces Korea redeploying nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula, a once-taboo topic that is gaining some currency in public discussions recently with a handful of analysts and politicians calling for their return.

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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol had advocated for nuclear redeployment while campaigning for office but later walked back the comments. In a speech last month, Yoon reaffirmed South Korea's commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

North Korea, meanwhile, announced last week that its recent spate of missile tests were drills for tactical nuclear weapon attacks on South Korea and U.S. targets.

"All this talk about tactical nuclear weapons, whether it comes from [Russian President Vladimir] Putin or [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un is irresponsible and dangerous," Goldberg said. "And escalation of those kinds of threats or speculation, I don't think help the situation."

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Goldberg pointed out Yoon's advocacy of the NPT and called for global efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

"We should be focused on not increasing the threat of nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise, but to address the need for ridding the world of the use of weapons," he said. "That ought to be our goal, to reduce tensions and rid the world of nuclear arms, if possible."

The United States and South Korea have increased their military cooperation as North Korea has stepped up its missile and weapons tests to record levels this year and is believed to be poised to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.

The allies returned to full-scale joint military drills in August and have conducted a series of combined naval and air exercises in the region, including the deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan nuclear aircraft carrier last month, drawing a furious response from Pyongyang.

During a May summit between Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden, Washington reaffirmed its "extended deterrence" commitment to South Korea using the "full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities."

Goldberg reiterated the American security guarantee to South Korea on Tuesday.

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"Extended deterrence means the protections provided by the United States in all areas, including nuclear," he said. "We have this iron-clad commitment. Nobody should have any doubt about that."

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