(LEAD) Seoul ‘open-minded’ about Japan’s participation in Korea-U.S. nuclear deterrence dialogue: ex-Seoul official

WASHINGTON, South Korea is "open-minded" about the idea of Japan participating in a currently bilateral nuclear deterrence dialogue between Seoul and Washington, a former South Korean national security advisor said Monday. Kim Sung-han, who served as President Yoon Suk Yeol's top security advisor from 2022-2023, made the remarks, noting that while in office, he had discussions with his counterpart over the idea of Japan's participation in the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG). The NCG was established under the Washington Declaration that Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden adopted during their summit in Washington last April as part of efforts to enhance deterrence against evolving North Korean nuclear and missile threats. "It depends on Japan. Korea is open-minded," Kim said during the form hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). "So we need to think about whether we will have ROK-U.S. NCG and ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral NCG, respectively, or we can have Japan join ROK-U.S. NCG i n a gradual manner. It depends on Japan, which requires some closer cooperation and consultation beforehand," he added. ROK stands for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea. Kim pointed out that for Japan, its participation in such an apparatus about the use of nuclear arms would be a sensitive issue -- in an apparent reference to domestic opposition in Japan about any potential employment of nuclear weapons. "I myself had a chance to talk to my Japanese counterpart about that issue when I was in the government. But this is a somewhat sensitive issue to Japan because NCG is about how to use nuclear weapons in a contingency," he said. "So from the Japanese perspective, this might provoke some domestic kind of discussions." Expansion discussions of the NCG to include Japan came as Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have been stepping up security cooperation through three-way military drills and diplomatic talks to counter unceasing security threats from Pyongyang. The CSIS forum centered on the issue of how to strengthen trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan amid the possibility that the three-way partnership could be affected by the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November. Sung Kim, former U.S. special representative for North Korea, stressed the need to "institutionalize" three-way cooperation to ensure that tripartite efforts to promote mutual interests continue regardless of domestic political events. "Whether it's military exercises, information sharing or cooperation in cyber, once we institutionalize and establish friendly, cooperative activities among the three countries, less likely that they will be affected by elections," he said. Highlighting the current stature, power and influence of South Korea and Japan, Kim stressed that it is "only natural" that there will be greater "challenge-sharing" and "burden-sharing" among the U.S. and its key Asian allies. "I would say that irrespective of what happens in November here, we should expect to see more of an active role played by both Japan and ROK diplomacy," he said. Noting that Pyongyang remains uninterested in dialogue and continues its weapons programs, Sung Kim underscored the growing need to cement trilateral cooperation. "This is why it's even more critical that our three governments continue to focus on strengthening our extended deterrence cooperation, trilateral cooperation more broadly," he said. Source: Yonhap News Agency