SEOUL, Jan 2 (Reuters) – South Korea and the United States are discussing possible joint exercises using US nuclear assets, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called Un has the South as its “unrepentant enemy” in simmering cross-border tensions.
Yoon’s comments came days after he called for a “preparation for war” with “overwhelming” capabilities, following a year marked by the North’s record number of missile tests, and the intrusion of drones of North Korea to the South last week.
“Nuclear weapons belong to the United States, but planning, information sharing, training and exercises must be carried out jointly by South Korea and the United States,” Yoon said in an interview published by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. on Monday.
The newspaper quoted Yoon as saying that joint planning and training would aim for a more effective implementation of US “extended deterrence”, and that Washington was also “quite positive” about the idea.
The term “extended deterrence” refers to the ability of the US military, particularly its nuclear forces, to deter attacks on US allies.
A Pentagon spokesman said: “We have nothing to announce right now,” when asked about Yoon’s comments, adding that the alliance remains “rock-solid.”
Yoon’s remarks also came a day after North Korean state media reported that its leader Kim had called for the development of new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and an “exponential increase” of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
At a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party meeting last week, Kim said South Korea had become the North’s “unequivocal enemy” and launched new military objectives, signaling another year of intensive weapons and tension testing.
Inter-Korean ties have long been strained but have further deteriorated since Yoon took office in May, pledging a tougher stance on the North’s rival.
On Sunday, North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile from its east coast, in a rare New Year’s Day weapons test last night, following three ballistic missiles launched on Saturday.
The North’s official KCNA news agency said the projectiles were fired from its massive multiple rocket launcher system, which Kim said “has South Korea as a whole in strike range and is capable of carrying tactical nuclear warheads .”
The North’s race to advance its nuclear and missile programs has renewed the debate over South Korea’s own nuclear weapons, but Yoon said in the Chosun Ilbo interview that maintaining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remains important. Weapons.
Yoon’s comments on the nuclear exercises are the latest demonstration of his tough stance on North Korea.
He said South Korea must punish and retaliate against any provocation by North Korea, calling it the most powerful way to deter any further provocation.
“This year could be a year of crisis with military tension on the Korean peninsula far beyond what it was in 2017,” said Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, referring to the day of “fire and fury” under the Trump administration.
“North Korea’s tough stance…and its aggressive weapons development when met with South Korea-US joint exercises and proportionate response could raise tensions in an instant, and we cannot take away what the same as a regional conflict when two sides have a misunderstanding. of the situation,” said Hong.
Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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