South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol delivered a speech and took questions at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Friday where he spoke about the challenges facing his country including the threat of nuclear weapons from neighboring North Korea.
Yoon pointed to a new plan he unveiled with President Joe Biden on Wednesday for intensified nuclear deterrence to counter any North Korean threat.
“If we were to accept nuclear weapons by North Korea then South Korea may have to possess nuclear weapons," Yoon said during a question-and-answer period after his speech at the Kennedy School. "This is not something we want to see happen.”
Yoon went on to say that if North Korea were to use nuclear weapons “the result is quite obvious."
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“As long as North Korea recognizes nuclear weapons as a means of survival we have to make sure to deter the usage of such weapons so that the Republic of Korea, our neighboring countries and the entire global community can be protected,” he said through a translator.
The so-called Washington Declaration unveiled Wednesday by Biden and Yoon calls for periodically docking U.S. nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea for the first time in decades, bolstering training between the two countries and more.
Yoon acknowledged that “there is some opinion in our Korean society that due to increasing nuclear missile threats posed by North Korea that we need to acquire our own weapons.”
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But he said acquiring nuclear weapons is more than just a technological problem. It is also a complex political and economic challenge.
“I believe that those opinions saying that we need to have our own nuclear arsenal are not considering all these things, all these factors,” he said. “The North Korean nuclear threat is not a faraway threat. It is imminent. It is at our front door. Therefore we need a very practical solution.”
On a lighter note, Yoon acknowledged the cultural inroads South Korea has forged with pop groups like BTS, the television survival drama “Squid Games” and movies like the Academy Award-winning “Parasite,” but declined to take any credit.
“Although I’m at the head of the government, I can’t say that the government has really done much to support that," he said. “It has been 100% the effort from the private sector and the market itself.”
Earlier in the day, Yoon stopped at the Massachusetts Statehouse as he wrapped up his state visit to the United States.
Yoon was greeted on the steps of the historic gold-domed building in Boston just after noon by Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey.
The two walked up the red-carpeted steps and into the front door of the state Capitol while the flag of South Korea fluttered in the breeze on one side of the building's front lawn.
Hong Doo-jung, 25, a public sector worker from Worcester, stood across from the Statehouse with several others protesting what he said was the South Korean president’s stance on unions. Hong could be heard yelling repeatedly “strikebreaker, boo” as the president ascended the stairs with Healey.
Yoon and Healey then sat down for a private lunch.
The stops in Boston and Cambridge come after Yoon visited Washington.
Yoon spoke to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday and praised the U.S.-South Korea security partnership since the Korean War seven decades ago as “the linchpin safeguarding our freedom, peace and prosperity.”
Biden hosted a state dinner for Yoon and his wife that included big names from politics, business, sports and entertainment including actor Angelina Jolie, home improvement duo Chip and Joanna Gaines, and Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim.
Associated Press Writer Michael Casey contributed to this report.