SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean President Kim Young Sam has declared that under no circumstance will his nation try to develop a nuclear arsenal of its own.
But if Communist North Korea succeeds in building nuclear weapons, Mr. Kim said he fears that Japan might be induced to follow suit, setting off a "chain reaction [that] would create an enormously tragic situation."
The statements, made in a 75-minute interview, were the first such declarations by a South Korean president.
Preparing for a visit Nov. 17-24 to the United States that will take him to Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, Mr. Kim also said he hoped that South Korea's military alliance with the United States and the stationing of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula would continue, even after eventual unification of the Communist north and the capitalist south.
The 65-year-old former opposition leader -- his country's first civilian leader since 1961 -- said he has "no reservation about the American handling" of attempts to persuade North Korea to halt its suspected development of nuclear weapons.
He expressed support for President Clinton's threat last July to "annihilate" North Korea if it ever used a nuclear weapon -- and added a threat of his own: "If North Korea insists on developing nuclear weapons, it will only mean its own self-destruction."
But he also expressed confidence that the Communist government of President Kim Il Sung, 81, will eventually bend to what he called unanimous world opinion opposing North Korea's nuclear development. "It's just a matter of time," he said.
Asked if he fears that Japan might follow suit if North Korea builds its own nuclear arsenal, he replied: "I think there is a possibility, yes. Because of the possibility that Japan might be stimulated to going nuclear, I think we should stop North Korea from developing its own nuclear weapons. The possible chain reaction would create an enormously tragic situation."
Mr. Kim made the statement four days after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa. Many South Koreans share Mr. Kim's worry about Japan going nuclear, but no South Korean leader has stated it openly before.
Asked if he could "categorically rule out that under no circumstance will South Korea in the future develop its own nuclear weapons," Mr. Kim replied: "Absolutely. That would disrupt peace in Northeast Asia and peace in the world at large. Peace is the most important issue. The very reason we are trying to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons is to maintain peace."