A prominent South Korean lawmaker said Tuesday that his country should consider developing nuclear weapons or bringing back the US arsenal as a way to pressure North Korea and its ally China.
Chung Mong-Joon, a billionaire businessman who belongs to the ruling conservative New Frontier Party, said on a visit to Washington that the latest crisis with North Korea showed that diplomacy had failed with Pyongyang.
The former presidential candidate said South Korea had the right to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to match North Korea's nuclear work step-by-step, stating that it would stop only if Pyongyang does likewise.
"It would send a clear warning that, by continuing its nuclear program, North Korea is releasing the nuclear genie in East Asia," Chung told a conference of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"North Korea -- and for that matter China as well -- should know that South Korea has this option if it persists in possessing nuclear weapons," he said, referring to Beijing's alliance with Pyongyang.
Chung, in a view endorsed by some US Republicans, said the United States also had the option to bring back nuclear weapons to South Korea which it withdrew in 1991 with the end of the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
Citing the example of Europe, Chung said: "The lesson of the Cold War is that against nuclear weapons, only nuclear weapons can hold the peace."
Chung's remarks are likely to raise apprehension in Washington, which has committed to protect both South Korea and Japan with its nuclear umbrella.
US officials do not expect South Korea to go nuclear anytime soon but oppose such a move, fearing that it would set back a longstanding, if repeatedly violated, principle of not allowing additional nations into the nuclear club.
The United States this month took the unprecedented step of announcing a bombing test-run in South Korea by its nuclear-capable B-2 jets, in a show of force US officials said was aimed largely at quashing doubts in Seoul.
Chung hailed the United States for its six decades of support but said that the alliance had allowed a failure of historic proportions -- a nuclear-armed North Korea.
"Telling us not to consider any nuclear option is tantamount to telling us to simply surrender," he said.