Korea nuke-Carnegie forum

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, March 27 (Yonhap) -- An upcoming forum will address one of the most contentious issue between South Korea and the United States -- whether Seoul should develop its own nuclear weapons.

The North Korean nuclear crisis will also be discussed at the 2013 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, set to begin April 8 for a two-day run.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will participate in the event, which will include a session on a renewed call in South Korea for "nuclear sovereignty," according to the organizer.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Rep. Chung Mong-joon, a seven-term lawmaker, will deliver a keynote speech, followed by discussions with U.S. experts on the issue.

Chung, former leader of the Saenuri Party, is a long-time advocate of South Korea's possession of nuclear weapons.

He has publicly emphasized South Korea needs to have nuclear capabilities to cope with North Korea's nuclear threats.

He suggests South Korea reintroduce U.S. tactical nuclear weapons. The U.S. pulled all of its tactical nuclear weapons out of South Korea in 1991 as the two Koreas signed an agreement calling for denuclearization of the peninsula and inter-Korean rapprochement.

"In the Carnegie seminar, Mr. Chung is expected to detail his view that South Korea should have nuclear capabilities," a diplomatic source said.

The Carnegie seminar is one of the highest-profile academic events on nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament. This year's event will draw dozens of government officials, politicians and pundits from around the world, including Yukiya Amano, director-general of the IAEA.

Although a relatively small group of conservative politicians and experts in South Korea openly claim that the country should own nuclear bombs, U.S. officials are apparently concerned about that call.

In a recent forum here on the South Korea-U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation, some U.S. State Department officials asked several questions on the possibility that Seoul will press ahead with nuclear weapons.

It is a potential deal breaker in the ongoing talks on revising a bilateral nuclear agreement slated to expire in March next year.

South Korea is hoping to expand its non-military nuclear programs and win Washington's consent for uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel. The U.S. remains reluctant as it strives to strengthen a global nonproliferation regime.

The South Korea-U.S. civilian nuclear accord issue will also be addressed at the Carnegie seminar.

Chang Soon-heung, with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, will attend the conference, the Carnegie institute said. He is a nuclear energy aide to South Korean President Park Guen-hye.

Park Ro-byug, a career diplomat serving as South Korea's chief negotiator with the U.S. on rewriting the 40-year-old nuclear agreement, had been scheduled to join the forum. But he has changed his mind and decided not to participate, a source close to the official said.

"Amb. Park seems to believe it is not appropriate to appear in a forum in which it will be discussed whether South Korea should develop a nuclear program, not only for peaceful but military purposes," the source said.

Meanwhile, a U.S. expert said South Korea needs to announce that it would move towards a nuclear weapons capability as North Korea is coming close to the deployment of an actual nuclear-tipped missile that works.

"An ROK (South Korea) nuclear weapons capability would impose a meaningful penalty on the DPRK (North Korea) for its nuclear weapons program," said Denny Roy, senior research fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii. "ROK nukes, furthermore, will help deter North Korean provocations."

The announcement also signals to Beijing that the cost of failing to discipline their client state is rising dramatically, he added.

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