Wed, Nov 08, 2017 - Page 6 News List

S Korea talks nuclear sub buy: reports

CHANGE OF HEART:Trump struck a conciliatory tone on his first day in South Korea, urging Pyongyang to ‘make a deal’ and confidently saying: ‘Ultimately, it’ll all work out’

AFP, SEOUL

South Korea is negotiating with the US to buy nuclear-powered submarines to guard against threats from Pyongyang, local reports said yesterday, as US President Donald Trump said Seoul would buy “billions of dollars” of US weapons.

Nuclear-powered submarines can stay submerged for months, giving them a far greater range than their diesel-powered counterparts, and are also crucial to any seaborne nuclear deterrent.

Such a purchase would redraw the balance of power in northeast Asia and could trigger a regional arms race. Japan does not have nuclear-powered submarines and is barred from having a military under its post-World War II pacifist constitution.

While China’s increasingly powerful navy does include them in its fleet, Beijing would undoubtedly be infuriated by any such acquisition by Seoul.

After a summit in Seoul with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump yesterday said Seoul would be buying a large amount of US weapons “whether it’s planes, whether it’s missiles, no matter what it is.”

“South Korea will be ordering billions of dollars of that equipment, which for them makes a lot of sense and for us it means jobs, reducing our trade deficit with South Korea,” he said.

While Moon did not give specific details of the purchases, he said they are essential for national defense.

Multiple South Korean media outlets said the two leaders ordered officials to begin the purchase talks “immediately,” citing a senior official who gave an anonymous briefing.

“The strategic assets under discussion include a nuclear-powered submarine and a sophisticated surveillance asset,” the reports quoted a senior official of Moon’s office as saying. “We will have close consultations with the US about these two in the future.”

South Korea is currently barred from developing atomic weapons under the deal with the US, which in turn offers Seoul a “nuclear umbrella” against potential attacks by the North.

Trump also said the US had agreed to remove a 500kg warhead weight limit on Seoul’s ballistic missiles.

The allies had agreed in principle to do so in September following the North’s latest nuclear test, by far its most powerful to date.

Moon yesterday said the two allies had reached a “final agreement” to remove the restriction.

“We also reaffirmed our stance to put maximum pressure and sanctions on the North until it... comes forward for genuine negotiations,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, in a striking shift of tone, Trump abandoned his aggressive rhetoric toward North Korea, signaling a willingness to negotiate as he urged Pyongyang to “come to the table” and “make a deal.”

Trump again pushed Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program, but sidelined apocalyptic threats for an optimistic note, saying confidently, if vaguely, that “ultimately, it’ll all work out.”

He also underlined the US’ military options, saying that three aircraft carrier groups and a nuclear submarine had been deployed to the region, but added: “We hope to God we never have to use [the arsenal].”

Additional reporting by AP

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