South Korea says talks under way over U.S. nuclear operations planning

SEOUL/WASHINGTON, Jan 3 (Reuters) – South Korea and the United States are discussing planning and conducting US nuclear operations against North Korea, the Seoul presidential office said Tuesday, despite US President Joe Biden saying there will be no joint nuclear exercises give .

The statement came shortly after Biden said the United States would not discuss joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, which appeared to contradict previous statements by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in an interview with a local newspaper.

Yoon’s spokesman Kim Eun-hye said Biden “had no choice but to say ‘no'” simply because he was asked if the two countries were discussing joint nuclear exercises, which can only take place between nuclear-weapon states.

“In response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the two countries are discussing ways to exchange information on the operation of U.S. nuclear facilities and plan and execute them together accordingly,” Kim said in a statement.

A senior US government official echoed Biden’s comment, saying that joint nuclear exercises with Seoul would be “extremely difficult” because South Korea is not a nuclear power, but that the allies are considering improved information sharing, joint contingency planning and an eventual plan exercise.

Both presidents, after meeting in Cambodia in November, asked their teams to find ways to address recent North Korean actions and statements that have sparked “growing concerns,” the official said.

“This will be done in a number of ways including, as President Yoon said, through improved information sharing, joint planning and expanding the range of emergencies that we plan for, as well as through training and with the idea eventually leading to a tabletop exercise,” the said Officials told Reuters.

The timetable for the planned tabletop exercises is yet to be determined, but they would take place “in the not too distant future” and would cover scenarios beyond nuclear situations, the official said.

“The idea is to also try and ensure that we are able to fully think through the range of possibilities based on the DPRK’s capabilities that they have demonstrated as well as their statements,” the official added, using the official Named North Korea added , the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

A National Security Council spokesman said in a statement that the United States is committed to enhanced deterrence and that allies are working toward “an effective coordinated response to a range of scenarios, including North Korea’s use of nuclear weapons.”

Yoon has pledged to strengthen America’s enhanced deterrent — the US military capability, particularly its nuclear forces, to deter attacks on its allies — since taking office in May amid evolving North Korean threats.

Pyongyang defined South Korea as an “undoubted enemy” and vowed to upgrade its nuclear arsenal this year after firing a record number of missiles in 2022 and fueling tensions by sending drones south in December.

Yoon said in the interview that joint nuclear planning and exercises would help dispel doubts about extended deterrence, as its existing concept “cannot convince” the South Koreans.

“US countermeasures have not kept pace with the North’s advancing nuclear programs, and the enhanced deterrence strategy is almost indistinguishable from when its nuclear capabilities were insignificant and weaker,” said Go Myong-hyun, senior research fellow at the Asan Institute for Political studies in Seoul.

But Kim Dong-yup, a professor at Kyungnam University, said the comment from Biden, who has sole authority to authorize the use of US nuclear weapons, suggests an American reluctance to share nuclear operations given their sensitivity and security concerns .

“With voices growing for tactical nuclear weapons, Washington could seek assurances and send more nuclear assets if we want, but they are unlikely to fully materialize President Yoon’s push for broader deterrence,” Kim said.

Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington; Edited by Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle

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