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S. Korea brushes off concerns about US intel leak

The flags of South Korea (right) and the US. (123rf)
The flags of South Korea (right) and the US. (123rf)

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s first deputy national security adviser dismissed the diplomatic fallout from the recent leak of highly classified US intelligence reports suggesting it might have been spying on South Korea, saying Washington, Seoul’s biggest ally, seems to have “no malicious intent.”

The remarks made Tuesday to reporters in Washington by Kim Tae-hyo -- the adviser who left Seoul that day to discuss Yoon’s state visit in late April -- underscore the Yoon administration’s resolve not to make a big deal out of the leak ahead of the summit.

Some of the leaked documents show senior Korean officials debating US pressure to provide weapons to Ukraine despite their policy against it, snapshots of which are pending authentication. Kim has said most of such information released online “was altered" and that Korean and US authorities share that assessment. Neither country has revealed what had led them to the conclusion.

Seoul’s rush to downplay the diplomatic impact from the leak highlights the urgency not to upset Washington, an ally South Korea needs more than ever on its side to fend off growing nuclear threats from North Korea. The April summit, meant to mark 70 years of ties, is a venue to openly solidify such commitment to containing Pyongyang amid its repeated threats to use nuclear weapons.

“(There is) nothing to do about the leak,” Kim told reporters when asked whether he would reach out to his White House counterpart over the disclosure. “That’s because someone else had altered it,” Kim noted, without elaborating whether he was referring to the entire leak or just parts concerning South Korea.

The adviser, who refused to divulge more on the leak, offered just as few details over whom he was planning to meet and what he was trying to achieve during the trip.

“Key issues -- economic, security and sociocultural ones -- are up on the summit agenda. … Those will get reviewed until the last minute to satisfy our national interests,” Kim said.

When asked about making the US more committed to its pledge to defend South Korea by all means necessary, including using nuclear weapons, Kim said “efforts will be made” to make that happen. Korean policymakers are pushing to make stronger the defense strategy, called “extended deterrence,” because that is the only practical way for Seoul to fight off Pyongyang’s nuclear threats as a non-nuclear state.

By Choi Si-young (