April 10, 2023
SEOUL – The South Korean presidential office said on Sunday it “will have necessary consultations with the US side” following a high-profile American media report that the US intelligence services had wiretapped the Korean government regarding its arms support for Ukraine.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that a significant amount of classified documents from the US Department of Defense were leaked on social media. At least two of the documents contained internal discussions of the Korean government about whether to give the US artillery shells for use in Ukraine, violating Seoul’s policy on providing lethal weapons aid. Korean officials expressed concern that US President Joe Biden may call and pressure Seoul to deliver the goods.
Citing secret Pentagon documents leaked through social media, the NYT reported that South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s former secretary for foreign affairs, Yi Mun-hui, informed his boss and former national security adviser Kim Sung-han of a concern that the US may not be the final recipient of ammunition. Both Kim and his subordinate stepped down last month for unclear reasons.
It is not the first time that the US has been accused of wiretapping foreign governments. In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the US to explain the alleged wiretapping of European politicians.
The presidential office held a meeting presided over by Cho Tae-yong, the new head of the National Security Office, on Sunday to review the contents of the NYT report and discuss countermeasures, according to Yonhap News Agency. President Yoon Suk Yeol also ordered a close examination of the issue.
When asked by Korean reporters about the report, a senior official from the presidential office said on Sunday on condition of anonymity that the government “will take a look at countermeasures by reviewing past precedents and cases in other countries.”
When asked specifically about the Korean government’s support for ammunition to Ukraine, which was included among the details of the US wiretapping report, the senior official declined to comment, saying that it “has been reported, but not confirmed,” and added there is “no change” in the country’s position over the Ukraine war.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the US and NATO have been pressuring the Korean government to provide weapons to Ukraine. The Korean government has consistently maintained that it can send humanitarian and economic aid, but not lethal weapons.
Multiple news reports from the US indicate that South Korea has supplied the US with approximately 200,000 units of 15 mm artillery ammunition intended for Ukraine.
“The issue of aid to Ukraine is not a matter of right or wrong. Indeed, morally we should support it, but it is difficult because of our relationship with Russia,” said Shin Yool, a professor of political science at Myongji University.
“However, the issue of wiretapping is different,” Shin said. “Wiretapping is illegal and cannot be justified in the name of an alliance. If it is true that the US wiretapped Korea, South Korea should get an apology from the US.”