South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks to CNN in Seoul on September 14, 2017.
Taehoon Lee/CNN
South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks to CNN in Seoul on September 14, 2017.
Now playing
02:39
Paula Hancocks interviews S. Korean president
Nicolas Asfouri/Pool/Getty Images/AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS
Now playing
01:27
North, South Korean leaders to meet again
Airbus Defense and Space
Now playing
01:44
New images show N. Korea dismantling test site
CNNI
Now playing
00:40
Pompeo dismisses N. Korea's 'gangster' comments
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:56
Kim Jong Un snubbed Mike Pompeo, source says
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09:  National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:34
Bolton: US has plan for denuclearizing N. Korea
Planet Labs Inc.
Now playing
01:25
Satellite images show missile plant construction
CNN
Now playing
01:14
Susan Rice: Kim Jong Un beat Trump at summit
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
From Rodong Sinmun
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
Now playing
02:14
Will North Korea restart nuclear tests?
Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:00
Will Kim Jong Un ever give up his nukes?
Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
02:27
What's bringing Kim Jong Un to the table
Now playing
01:51
Who is Kim Jong Un?
CNN
Now playing
01:43
Connolly: Trump comment on Kim 'jaw-dropping'
Now playing
02:31
Moon: The masterful dealmaker
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
CNN
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
Now playing
01:26
Trump: Kim Jong Un very open and honorable
Now playing
03:06
Finding art on the edge of the DMZ

Story highlights

Moon said South Korea needs to advance its military, but would not go nuclear

The South Korean President brushed aside possible tensions with US leader

(CNN) —  

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has dismissed the possibility of deploying nuclear weapons in his country, warning it could “lead to a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia.”

“I do not agree that South Korea needs to develop our own nuclear weapons or relocate tactical nuclear weapons in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat,” he told CNN Thursday in his first televised interview since North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.

Though he was not supportive of deploying or pursuing nuclear weapons, Moon said South Korea “needs to develop our military capabilities in the face of North Korea’s nuclear advancement.”

Earlier this month, South Korea’s defense minister suggested it was worth reviewing the redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons on the peninsula in order to deter threats from the North, something conservative US Sen. John McCain said should be “seriously considered.”

A recent Gallup Korea poll found 60% of respondents were in favor of South Korea having its own nuclear weapons, with 35% opposed.

“To respond to North Korea by having our own nuclear weapons will not maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula and could lead to a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia,” Moon said.

04:01 - Source: CNN
Diplomat: Trump tweets scaring South Korea

Next week, Moon will travel to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. His visit comes amid speculation over a growing rift between Seoul and Washington, after US President Donald Trump accused Moon of seeking “appeasement” with North Korea.

US-South Korea relations

“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” Trump tweeted earlier this month.

Moon was undeterred Thursday, saying there was no need to interpret Trump’s tweet “in a narrow way.”

“I believe what President Trump wanted to say was that, not only South Korea and the US, but also China and Russia all together need to respond very firmly against North Korea’s nuclear provocations,” he said.

02:17 - Source: CNN
Putin on N. Korea: We must be cold-blooded

Moon said just because the US and South Korea were currently pursuing a firm path of sanctions and military drills, the time for negotiations wasn’t over.

“This is in order to make the right conditions for dialogues and I would like to emphasize this,” he said.

But he added the new harsh UN sanctions, agreed to on Monday, would need to be properly enforced if they were to have any effect.

“There’s not just formal trade. There’s also informal trade that is going on and if China and Russia faithfully implement this resolution, I believe we can also be able to ban this informal trade,” he said.

’Reckless choice’

While Moon was voted into office in May largely on his economic and anti-corruption policies, his first months in power have been dominated by North Korea’s provocations.

Pyongyang has ramped up missile testing this year, and earlier this month it conducted its sixth nuclear test, believed to be the most powerful yet, and has also claimed it has the capability to mount a hydrogen bomb on top of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the mainland US.

“North Korea continues to make very wrong decisions, so I’m very frustrated and I’m saddened to see this,” Moon said. “It’s a very reckless choice made by North Korea that is not helpful to North Korea itself or inter-Korean relations and threatens world peace.”

In response to the recent test, South Korea has ramped up military drills and completed the roll-out of a controversial US missile defense system – the deployment of which was previously criticized by Moon.

This week, analysts at 38 North, a monitoring service, said satellite images of North Korea’s nuclear testing site showed the effects of the earthquake caused by the most recent test, as well as preparations for “future underground nuclear testing.”

Moon said he believed North Korea wanted to ensure “regime stability” and to be accepted as a nuclear power state, with a seat at the negotiating table with the US.

“However the international community will never accept a nuclear North Korea and in particular my country will never accept a nuclear North Korea,” he said.

Paula Hancocks reported from Seoul. James Griffiths reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Taehoon Lee contributed to this report.