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US Rebuffs Talk Of More Detailed Nuclear Umbrella For South Korea

US tracking "suspicious vessel" out of North Korea
Washington, Oct 19 - The United States is tracking a suspicious vessel that left a North Korean port, a US official said Thursday, adding it was uncertain what it was carrying. CBS reported that US intelligence suspects that the vessel is carrying military equipment banned under an embargo imposed by UN Security Council in response to North Korea's October 9 nuclear test. "The United States is aware of a vessel that has left a North Korean port," the US official told AFP. "There are some suspicions. I would be careful of the certitude of the vessel's cargo." The official said it was a "suspicious ship," suggesting that its history was a key reason for watching it.
by Jim Mannion
Washington (AFP) Oct 19, 2006
The United States will make no change in its standard commitment to extend a nuclear umbrella over South Korea despite reports that Seoul is seeking a more detailed understanding, a senior US defense official said Thursday. Annual US-South Korean defense talks will conclude Friday with a final communique containing the same language on the US commitment that it has every year since 1978, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We have really no plans to discuss the details of the umbrella either publicly or privately," said the official.

He said the US commitment on nuclear deterrence "simply is a fact. It's a component of our mutual defense treaty. And we're happy to let the statements stand for themselves as they have for the past 30 odd years."

The official said he was addressing the issue because of speculation in South Korea and the region in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test October 9.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Seoul Thursday to discuss how to respond to North Korea's nuclear test.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meets here Friday with South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung in the final session of the annual military talks.

Before the talks began, a South Korean official was reported to have said both sides will try to spell out the US nuclear umbrella pledge in detail.

Seoul was considering asking Washington, which withdrew all its nuclear weapons from the peninsula in 1991, to elaborate on what types of tactical nuclear weapons can be provided, the official said.

The US official said the South Koreans had not pressed for a more detailed pledge.

South Korea gave up its quest for nuclear weapons in the 1970s under strong US pressure.

The US official said Washington assumed Seoul would stick by its commitment not to pursue its own nuclear weapons capability, which he said was codified in the 1992 agreement on de-nuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

"The suggestion has been that the North Koreans have let's say torn the agreement up," the official said.

"The South Korean government continues to state that it is bound by and will continue to adhere to that agreement and considers it to be still in force, which is a very important point of departure for us to engage with the North Koreans in the future," he said.

Rumsfeld warned on Tuesday, however, of the risk of a rapid spread of nuclear weapons to other states if the international community fails to stop North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs.

The senior US defense official sought to play down South Korean reports that talks would cover changes in contingency planning to reflect that North Korea has nuclear weapons.

He said the alliance was already so close "really means there is nothing new here to be planned, as far as wartime planning goes."

"We're very comfortable with where all of our planning is right now. Our plans are in place. We have total agreement with all of our allies. So this is not an issue of concern," he said.

On another issue, the official said the two sides were still at odds over the timing of a plan to transfer to the South Koreans wartime control of their troops.

The US side wants it to happen in 2009, whereas the South Koreans say they will not be ready until 2012.

earlier related report
South Korea studies options in case Japan develops nukes: report
Seoul (AFP) Oct 19 - South Korea is assessing its options in case Japan decides to develop nuclear weapons following North Korea's first atom bomb test, a news report said Thursday.

"We are studying our options very seriously in case Japan is armed with nuclear weapons," an unidentified government official was quoted as saying by the independent Hankyoreh daily.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ruled out acquiring nuclear weapons, but others in his ruling party have said the long-taboo option should at least be discussed in the wake of North Korea's October 9 test.

Just hours before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Tokyo, Foreign Minister Taro Aso came out in favor of a debate, saying it was "important to discuss various possibilities" when a neighboring country has nuclear weapons.

But following his meeting with Rice, Aso insisted that "there is no need for Japan to arm itself with nuclear weapons as we have the security commitment of the United States.

"We don't think Aso's remarks were something accidental that came out suddenly," the South Korean government official was quoted as saying.

"We believe the Japanese government has been discussing options for a long time on the assumption that North Korea posesses nuclear weapons."

A South Korean foreign ministry official declined to comment on what Seoul would do should Japan go nuclear, calling it a hypothetical question.

The United States is strongly opposed to nuclear proliferation and has mutual defense treaties with both Japan and South Korea, providing them with a "nuclear umbrella" in case they are attacked.

earlier related report
US: Not looking to dominate NKorea
Washington (AFP) Oct 19 - The United States said Thursday it does not want to dominate or humiliate North Korea and is instead offering "a pretty good deal" of economic and diplomatic benefits for giving up nuclear weapons.

"As to the central charge of trying to humiliate or to make them go to their knees, it's just the opposite," White House spokesman Tony Snow said in response to a North Korean general's comments to ABC television.

"Not only do we not want North Korea to kneel down before (us), but what we're trying to do is offer them a better deal -- better economy, more security, better relations with their neighbors, integration into the global community, as opposed to isolation. A pretty good deal," he said.

Asked whether the general's warning that war might be inevitable unless tensions ease was accurate, Snow replied curtly: "No."

"It is not unusual for the North Koreans to use strong rhetoric," said Snow. "We, right now, are focused on using all of our efforts on a diplomatic path to work with that government of North Korea so that they're going to do things that are going to be good for all of them.

"What we want to do is give North Korea an opportunity to enjoy the same kinds of privileges and prosperity that are available to other nations in the region," said the spokesman.

"What we've tried to do in the case of the government of North Korea is not to engage in personal insults about Kim Jong Il but to talk directly about what the government has been doing and how we're trying to work with people in the neighborhood to help out North Korea," he said.

"And, you know, there are disagreements, but also a lot of times what happens is people engage in some public diplomacy," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Despite Mounting Pressure North Korea Signals More Tests
Seoul (AFP) Oct 19, 2006
North Korea signalled Thursday it would ignore demands to stop testing atom bombs, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held crisis talks with Asian allies to get the defiant regime to stand down. US officials said a delegation from China, the North's only major ally, was in Pyongyang delivering a "very strong" warning not to proceed with another test after the first led to UN sanctions and international condemnation.

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