WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington and Seoul are not discussing the restoration of nuclear weapons to South Korea after last week's atomic test by North Korea, a U.S. official said on Monday, saying this could spark a regional arms race.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed the two were talking about sending more U.S. "strategic assets" to the region but said this meant deploying such things as nuclear-capable bombers rather than putting U.S. nuclear arms in South Korea for the first time in about a quarter century.
"Re-introduction of nuclear weapons on the peninsula will lead to neighbors asking questions about what they should be doing and it could quickly escalate into an arms race, a very dangerous arms race, in the region," said the official.
Asked if such a step might spur North Korea, which last week conducted its fourth nuclear test, to move more aggressively on their own atomic weapons program, the official replied: "That's a distinct possibility.
"Even though we do not pose any threat to them, North Koreans have used the excuse of the threat posed by the U.S. and our allies to develop their dangerous capabilities," he added. Putting U.S. nuclear arms back in South Korea "would embolden the North Korean leadership to be more committed to pursuing their (Weapons of Mass Destruction) capabilities and in fact it would give them a very convenient excuse to do so."
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush decided in 1991 to remove U.S. nuclear weapons from South Korea.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Eric Walsh and Sandra Maler)