President Trump with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria

Korea JoongAng Daily reports that Seoul and Washington have agreed in principle to let South Korea build nuclear-powered submarines to counter the threat from North Korea.

The Seoul-based newspaper says its exclusive story is based on interviews with multiple senior South Korean government officials. The plan for South Korea to build its own nuke subs is reportedly being pursued by President Moon Jae-in at the current UN General Assembly meeting in New York. It may be made public sometime after he meets with US President Donald Trump this week. Both Moon and Trump are attending the annual UN meeting in the city.

South Korea’s Blue House had previously denied that there was an agreement with the US on the submarine issue.

“Until now, the two countries had close consultations on the issue,” a senior official was quoted by JoongAng as saying. “The discussion was already over among the officials working on the issue. The agreement can be made public at an appropriate time after Moon meets with US President Donald Trump during the UN trip.”

“South Korea’s procurement of nuclear-powered submarines is a key mission of Moon’s New York trip,” the unnamed official added. “None of his predecessors accomplished it, but Moon has been able to persuade the US government.”

Moon is scheduled to have a bilateral summit with Trump in New York on Thursday.

The South Korean newspaper Maeil Business reported in August that South Korea was interested in acquiring nuclear submarines. The step has previously been discouraged by domestic political factors and issues involving the use of nuclear technology that touched on the US-South Korean military alliance.

The Maeil article noted that the current US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea is focused on North Korean land-based missiles and would have trouble detecting submarine-launched attacks at sea. The same is true of existing South Korean early-warning radar systems, Maeil said.

South Korean nuke subs, according to the story, would be able to stay submerged for long periods and would be highly maneuverable. They could lay in wait for North Korean submarines stealing from their bases to launch missile attacks on the South.

Japan’s Tokyo Shimbun reported earlier this month that Pyongyang has two or three missile-launch capable submarines that are almost ready to be deployed, according to UPI, which picked up the story.

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