SEOUL--South Korea floated the idea of sharing in the control of nuclear weapons with the United States during bilateral talks held in May, citing North Korea's advances in developing weapons of mass destruction.

According to a source well-versed in U.S.-South Korea relations, South Korean officials touched upon the possibility of deploying U.S. nuclear weapons to bases in South Korea and jointly managing them. The source said there are mounting calls within South Korea for the nation to arm itself with nuclear weapons as protection against the growing menace from Pyongyang.

South Korean officials apparently feel a nuclear sharing policy could be used to quell such calls.

However, U.S. officials brushed aside even further discussing nuclear sharing on grounds it could touch off a domino effect in East Asia with a nuclear arms race.

The topic was raised during the Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue held May 9-10 in Washington. Heading the South Korean delegation was Yoo Jeh-seung, deputy minister for defense policy, while the U.S. side was represented by David Shear, then U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.

South Korea likely had in mind the nuclear sharing policy the United States has with four NATO member nations--Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. Bomber-launched nuclear weapons are deployed in those four nations, which in turn cooperate in providing security at the bases where the aircraft are stationed.

Those nations are free to offer their views on the use of the nuclear weapons, but the United States holds ultimate authority over resorting to nuclear warfare.

During the May talks with U.S. officials, South Korea explained North Korea's nuclear test in January triggered growing calls for the nation to have access to nuclear weapons.

North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9.

"Although the South Korean government does not take the position of arming itself with nuclear weapons, it would be possible to alleviate the calls for such armament if there was a nuclear sharing policy with the United States," a South Korean participant at the meeting was quoted as saying.

According to the source, the comment was made not as a request of the United States, but as an explanation of the situation in South Korea. The South Korean officials may have been trying to sound out the possibility of an extension of the nuclear sharing policy with NATO nations by adding their country to the list.

U.S. officials indicated they could not go along with the idea, citing President Barack Obama's goal of a nuclear-free world and plans to reduce the number of weapons included in the nuclear sharing policy with NATO.

The policy position may well stem from a belief in Washington that any sharing of control of nuclear weapons with South Korea could backfire and lead to further provocations by North Korea that would make any attempt at negotiations to resolve the nuclear weapons issue all but impossible.

Extending the nuclear sharing policy could also lead to calls within Japan and Taiwan to have nuclear weapons capability.

The United States is said to have removed all its tactical nuclear weapons from its bases in South Korea after South Korean President Roh Tae-woo issued a declaration in 1991 seeking to make the Korean Peninsula a nuclear-free zone.

However, the latest nuclear test by North Korea has triggered even stronger calls within South Korea to take the nuclear option.

On Sept. 12, a group of national assembly members led by Won Yoo-chul, the former floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, issued a statement calling for discussions of all possible options for self-defense, including an independent nuclear arsenal.

U.S. officials have tried to placate such calls among its allies by stressing its policy of extended deterrence in which Washington would view any nuclear attack on an ally as an attack against the United States itself.

The U.S. military provided concrete evidence of that policy on Sept. 13 as two B-1B strategic bombers were deployed to South Korea from their base in Guam. The bombers flew over the Osan Air Base, a signal that the United States considers North Korea's latest act of brinkmanship an unacceptable threat.