S.Korea Could Build Its Own Nuke, Says Ex-U.S. Defense Chief

Former U.S. defense secretary William Perry speaks at a seminar in Washington on Tuesday. /Yonhap

A former U.S. defense secretary says it would be "preferable" for South Korea to build its own nuclear capabilities to counter the mounting nuclear threat from North Korea.

William Perry was speaking at a seminar hosted by the Arms Control Association, a U.S. nonpartisan organization, in Washington on Tuesday, according to Yonhap News.

"I do not think it's necessary or desirable to deploy nuclear weapons again in South Korea and Japan," he said. "But I do think it's preferable for those countries to get an independent nuclear force."

He said Pyongyang will not stop its missile tests until it has an operational intercontinental ballistic missile, giving it the capability to deliver nuclear weapons anywhere around the world within a few years.

He warned that an accidental clash could escalate into a nuclear war and urged the U.S. to provide "solid reassurance" to Seoul and Tokyo that its commitment to extended deterrence is "real and will be honored."

Perry was in office between 1994 and 1997, when the first North Korean nuclear crisis came to a head.

He is a leading U.S. proponent of dialogue with Pyongyang who initiated the "Perry Process" that had the international community guaranteeing the regime's survival in return for abandoning of the nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told CNN on Tuesday that there is "no concrete evidence" that the North has mastered the technology required to put a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

The North's official claim that it has "completed" a "nuclear force" does not mean it has really mastered the technology, she added.

The remarks suggest that the Moon Jae-in administration does not believe the North has crossed the "red line" where talks are no longer an option.

Pundits believe that Seoul' and Washington's assessments of the North Korean threat are starting to diverge. A recent CIA report says that there is only a "three-month window" in which Washington can still halt the regime's ICBM program.