By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, April 8 (Yonhap) -- A visiting South Korean political heavyweight claimed Monday his country should go nuclear to send a political message, especially to China.
Rep. Chung Mong-joon, a seven-term lawmaker who served as the head of South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party, said Beijing, preoccupied with such issues as Tibet and Taiwan, has put the North Korean nuclear problem on the back burner.
"In terms of North Korea, China wants to maintain the status quo, reluctant to be active in putting pressure on it," he told South Korean correspondents in Washington. He is visiting to attend the two-day 2013 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference.
He is scheduled to deliver a speech during Tuesday's session, in which he plans to clarify his view on why South Korea should demand the return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons or move to develop its own nuclear capability.
The U.S. pulled all of its tactical nuclear weapons, which can be delivered by artillery or missile, out of South Korea in 1991 as the two Koreas signed an agreement calling for the denuclearization of the peninsula and inter-Korean rapprochement.
The North has clearly violated the deal, but the South has not declared it nullified yet.
Chung said Seoul should persuade Washington to bring back nuclear weapons to the peninsula.
"Possessing nuclear weapons is the best way to counter North Korea's nuclear threats," he said. "It would send a strong political message not only to North Korea but also to China."
It would make China take seriously the international community's push for the denuclearization of North Korea, as Beijing's cooperation is indispensable, he added.
Such an argument by Chung, educated in the U.S. and seen as a potential presidential candidate, is not new. He first publicly called for the return of tactical nuclear bombs.
But his claim apparently gains more public support in South Korea these days following North Korea's third nuclear test in February.
Military tensions in Korea have been sharply heightened in recent weeks amid Pyongyang's bellicose statements and actions.
Chung's calls are also sensitive among U.S. officials and experts campaigning for nonproliferation.
They take a lukewarm approach toward Seoul's efforts to leave the door open for enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel for civilian purposes in a bilateral agreement that is currently being negotiated.
"The issue of the atomic energy cooperation pact should be considered separately (with my suggestions)," Chung stressed.
He also said South Korea should scrap a plan to take over the wartime operational control of its own troops from the U.S. in 2015.
"The U.S. should halt a scheme to move the Second Infantry Division to a base south of the Han River in Seoul," he added. "The U.S. will also have to push for direct talks with North Korea to put a top priority on the denuclearization issue."
Chung said he met with Henry Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of state, in New York before arriving in Washington.
"I explained my ideas (to him)," Chung said, without elaborating on Kissinger's response.
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