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regular-article-logo Saturday, 02 March 2024

Leaked files spark South Korea outrage

'If it is true that they have spied on us, it is a very disappointing act that undermines the South Korea-US alliance, which is based on mutual trust'

Choe Sang-Hun Seoul Published 12.04.23, 04:25 AM
Yoon Suk Yeol.

Yoon Suk Yeol. File Photo

Opposition lawmakers in South Korea this week criticized the leaked Pentagon documents as a major security breach and possible evidence of US spying as the government of President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday sought to downplay the disclosures and defend Seoul’s alliance with Washington.

The highly classified leaked documents suggest that the US has ​been spying on top national security officials in Yoon’s administration, which opposition lawmakers described as “a super-scale security breach​” ​while accusing Washington of “violating the sovereignty” of a key ally.

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“If it is true that they have spied on us, it is a very disappointing act that undermines the South Korea-US alliance, which is based on mutual trust,” Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main Opposition Democratic Party, told foreign media reporters on Tuesday. If it was true, he added, Washington should also apologise to the South Korean people.

Yoon’s administration has insisted that the scandal would not and should not damage his country’s alliance with the US.​ On Tuesday, ​his government appeared to minimise the importance of the leak, saying that defence minister Lee Jong-sup and ​his American counterpart, defence secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, had agreed during a Tuesday morning phone call that “quite a few of the documents in question were fabricated”.

But South Korean officials would not discuss the ​information contained in the leaked documents or what exactly they considered to be fabricated.

The reaction to the leak in South Korea is perhaps the strongest so far by an ally as the Biden administration scrambles to contain the damage from apparent US spying on its partners, including Ukraine. US officials “are engaging with allies and partners at high levels” over the leaked documents, “to reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence”, Vedant Patel, a state department spokesman, told reporters on Monday.

So far, the leaked documents obtained by The New York Times have contained three​ entries on South Korea.

One file said that the South Korean National Security Council in early March was grappling with a request from the US to provide artillery ammunition to Ukraine. Seoul has never​ confirmed such a request, although it said it was discussing selling 155-mm shells to Washington on the condition that the US military would be their “end user”.

New York Times News Service

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