SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's president during the 1993-94 nuclear crisis with North Korea said Friday he argued with then-President Bill Clinton about a proposed U.S. attack and warned that South Korean troops would not be sent to back up the American military effort.
Kim Young-sam, speaking at a news conference, said Clinton told him in a telephone call that the United States was about to bomb the Yongbyon nuclear complex in North Korea and that the United States was moving one aircraft carrier and seven cruisers and destroyers up the east coast of the communist country.
"Clinton told me that he would launch an immediate bombardment on the Yongbyon area. Clinton was very determined about it, but I argued to him that such an attack should never take place," said Kim, president from 1993-98.
"So there was quite an argument between him and me. Sometimes the phone conversations lasted more than 40 minutes," he said.
Kim did not specify when the phone calls took place.
"Finally I told him that if the United States attacks North Korea, I cannot send one single member of South Korea's 650,000 armed forces into battle."
Kim said that if the United States had attacked, it would have triggered an all-out war turning Seoul into a "sea of fire" and the whole of South Korea would have been vulnerable to attacks from North Korean forces.
Kim said that would have resulted in the deaths and injury of tens of millions of South Koreans and the collapse of the South Korean economy.
The former president said he was particularly concerned about North Korean artillery deployed near the border that can hit Seoul.
After the conversations, former President Jimmy Carter stepped in to help mediate a peaceful resolution. The United States and North Korea signed an accord in 1994 that required the communist state to freeze its nuclear facilities in return for energy and other economic aid.
North Korea is currently engaged in another standoff with the United States about the reactivation of its nuclear facilities, which Washington says can be used to make atomic bombs.
Kim held the news conference to announce the signing of a statement by 26 former Cabinet ministers, diplomats and religious leaders urging North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. They also supported the presence of 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.