S. Korea tried to have nuclear bombs in 1980s: declassified papers

By Yi Whan-woo
Chun Doo-hwan

While meeting a visiting U.S. official in 1986, then-President Chun Doo-hwan said if South Korea had just three nuclear bombs, it would be enough to induce North Korea to inter-Korean talks, according to diplomatic documents declassified Tuesday.

Chun told this to Edward Rowny who came to Seoul on Oct. 15, 1986, as an envoy of then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Rowny made the visit to brief the South Korean government on Washington’s arms reduction negotiations with Moscow.

“North Korea will comply with a call for inter-Korean dialogue only if we have three nuclear weapons,” Chun reportedly said.

“Of course we won’t use it, even if we have one.”

Chun continued, “Communists never respond to pleas if they do not have weak points.” The comments are viewed as a euphemistic expression of his regret over the suspension of South Korea’s nuclear development program.

The Chun government reportedly gave up nuclear development initiated by the previous Park Chung-hee government to gain support from the U.S., which was worried about the program.

The declassified documents also showed that the Chun government sought to prevent human rights violations in South Korea from being discussed in Europe ahead of Chun’s trip to the United Kingdom, West Germany, France and Belgium in April 1986.

From 1985 to 1986, South Korea stepped up diplomacy to persuade Europe against branding it a violator of human rights.

The Chun government ordered its ambassador in Belgium to convince the members of the European Commission to exclude South Korea from the list of countries sponsoring human rights violations.

The measure came after an AFP report in May 1985 that South Korea was to be included on the blacklist again following its removal in 1983.

The ambassador highlighted South Korea’s positive aspects concerning human rights, expressed regrets over the country being included on the list and requested the commission to remove Seoul from the blacklist.

In October 1985, the commission then adopted a resolution on human rights without South Korea on the list.

In the lead-up to Chun’s 1986 European trip, Foreign Minister Lee Won-kyung sent a message to South Korean ambassadors there to cooperate on preventing mentions of South Korea’s human rights situation during Chun’s summits with the leaders of the host countries.

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