Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) yesterday called for an investigation of congressional committee charges that the South Korean government had a top-secret nuclear weapons program up until 1975.
Details of the covert nuclear weapons program were disclosed in a House investigative subcommittee report released Wednesday which said, "There are indications that in the early 1970s. some steps were taken which appeared designed to pave the way for a nuclear weapons program."
Administration sources said yesterday that there is no evidence that the Korean program ever produced a nuclear weapon.
The House was the result of the 18-month Korean investigation directed by Rep. Donald M. Fraser's (D-Minn) House International Relations subcommittee.
According to an unnamed former high-ranking Korean official who testified before the House panel last February, Seoul's clandestine nuclear weapons effort was directed by a Weapons Exploitation Committee established in 1970 by Korean President Park Chung Hee.
The Korean official told the subcommittee staff that the WEC had voted unanimously to press the development of nuclear weapons and had pressed for the purchase of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant from the French. Reprocessing plants can be used to convert spent nuclear fuel into weapons grade material that in turn, can be used to fabricate atomic bombs.
France finally cancelled the reprocessing plant sale to Korea in January 1976. under intense diplomatic pressure from the United States.
The House Korea investigation report, which devotes only two of its 447 pages to accounts of Seoul's nascent nuclear program, said that members of the WEC visited Israel, France, Norway, and Switzerland in 1972. Israel is said to have a nuclear weapons capability, as do the French. The report, however, does not say whether the Korean weapons delegation discussed acquiring nuclear weapons technology from the countries visited.
Glen said in a telephone interview that he wants to know whether the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency were aware of the Korean's reported plans to develop an atomic weapon capability. And if so, why did the government enter into an Agreement for Cooperation to supply non-military nuclear materials to Korea in 1973.
Currently the United States has 26 nuclear cooperation agreements in effect, which are necessary for U.S. suppliers to provide reactors and nuclear fuels under the government's licensing program.
The Ohio Democrat went on to say, "I am not interested so much in pinning Korea to the wall as I am in making sure that our nuclear nonproliferation efforts can prevent this kind of a thing."
Glenn is chairman of the Senate Government Affairs subcommittee on energy and along with Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill) and Rep. Jonathan Bingham (D-N.Y.), sponsored the recently enacted nuclear nonproliferation bill.
According to the House report, "The executive branch considers this matter so sensitive that despite repeated requests for information, the Department of State was not forth coming" on the extent of the Korean program.
A footnote to the House Korean investigation report adds that the panel had also investigated "an alleged leak of classified State Department information on nuclear matters on a Korean national," and turned the results over authorities for futher investigation.
Asked about the details of the allegations, a well-placed administration source said, "It is our clear conclusion today that there is not a nuclear weapons program in Korea."
Nevertheless, the Koreans have continued to internally debate the questions of whether they should develop their own nuclear capability, particularly when discussion of U.S. withdrawal from Korea or the Far East is broached.
In June 1975, President Park said, "If the U.S. nuclear umbrella were removed, we have to start developing our own nuclear weapons capability."