South Korea says no use of nuclear weapons in joint operational plans with US

A presidential official has said any use of force cannot be implemented without South Korea's consent. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea said on Tuesday (Sept 15) that none of its joint military action plans with the United States includes any use of nuclear weapons, after a book by a US journalist sparked debate over whether scenarios of a full-blown war with North Korea would entail a nuclear attack from either side.

In his new book, titled Rage, Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward wrote that the US had devised plans for a possible armed clash with North Korea, such as "the US response to an attack that could include the use of 80 nuclear weapons".

The book was based on multiple interviews with US President Donald Trump.

The passage fuelled debate in South Korea over whether it meant Washington or Pyongyang would detonate 80 bombs against each other.

Seoul's defence ministry said on Tuesday its joint operational plans (OPLAN) with the US did not include any use of nuclear weapons, reiterating the view of the presidential office.

A presidential official said on Monday that there must not be another war on the peninsula and any use of force cannot be implemented without South Korea's consent.

"I can say clearly that the use of a nuclear weapon does not exist in our OPLANs, and it is impossible to use military force without our agreement," the official told reporters.

Seoul officials say there appears to be confusion in the book because the OPLAN 5027 it referred to was not designed for nuclear war but to map out troop deployment plans and key targets.

"It might indicate the maximum levels of the bombs the North could resort to in an all-out war, but the number itself is too high and hardly comprehensible in any case without clear contexts," said Mr Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korea nuclear envoy.

After trading insults and nuclear threats that had pushed their countries to the brink of war, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held an unprecedented summit in Singapore in 2018.

But negotiations aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes have stalled since their second summit early last year.

The two leaders continued to exchange letters, however, often expressing thanks for their previous meetings and at times calling for concessions, the book said.

In an August 2019 letter, Mr Kim urged that South Korea-US military exercises be cancelled or postponed before working-level negotiation. Planned drills, which Pyongyang has called a rehearsal for war, were scaled back later on, and both sides described it as a move to expedite the talks.

"I am clearly offended and I do not want to hide this feeling from you. I am really, very offended," Mr Kim wrote, referring to the exercises.

Mr Trump also said during their first summit that he did not want to "remove" Mr Kim, and that North Korea could become "one of the great economic powers" if it abandons weapons programmes, the book said.

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