The United States is not discussing joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, US President Joe Biden has said, seemingly contradicting it comments from his South Korean counterpart, President Yoon Suk-yeolthat Washington and Seoul were discussing exercises involving US nuclear assets.
The South Korean president said in a newspaper interview that Seoul and Washington were in talks about “joint planning and exercises with U.S. nuclear assets to counter North Korea’s nuclear threats.”
Asked by reporters at the White House on Monday whether he was currently discussing joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, Biden said, “No.”
President Yoon’s comments, in an interview published Monday in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, come at a time of rising tension with North Koreawhich tested and launched an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles by 2022 pledged to vigorously oppose what it considers military planning by the US and South Korea for a possible invasion.
In response to North Korea’s saber-clatter, Yoon has taken an increasingly tough stance, calling for “war preparation” with an “overwhelming” capability.
The newspaper quoted Yoon as saying the joint planning and exercises would aim to more effectively implement the US’s “comprehensive deterrence”, which refers to the ability of the US military – particularly its nuclear forces – to withstand attacks against US allies. to deter.
To better respond to North Korea’s nuclear threats, Seoul wants to participate in the US nuclear forces operation, Yoon told the paper.
“The nuclear weapons belong to the United States, but planning, information sharing, exercises and training should be conducted jointly by South Korea and the United States,” Yoon said, adding that Washington is also “quite positive” about the idea .
According to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, Yoon’s senior secretary for press affairs, Kim Eun-hye, said on Tuesday that Biden should say no when asked such a direct question on such a sensitive issue.
“When the Reuters reporter asked him outright whether joint nuclear exercises were being discussed, President Biden, of course, had to say ‘no,'” Kim said in a statement, according to Yonhap.
“South Korea and the United States are in talks about information sharing, joint planning and the joint implementation plans to follow, regarding the operation of US nuclear assets, to respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons,” she said. .
The seemingly contradictory statement emerging from Seoul and Washington seemed to cause some confusion.
Despite Biden’s comment, South Korea’s presidential office continues to insist that the US and South Korea are in talks to give South Korea a greater role in the US nuclear forces operation.
Statement just made by Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for press affairs: pic.twitter.com/PcJ8UapAEw
— William Gallo (@GalloVOA) January 3, 2023
A senior Biden administration official seemed to offer some clarity, telling the Reuters news agency that no joint nuclear exercises with South Korea were planned because Seoul was not a nuclear power.
The US and South Korea were seeking improved information sharing, expansion of contingencies and eventually table exercises, the official said, according to Reuters.
The US has long had an extensive deterrence dialogue with Japan to discuss nuclear issues and began the same dialogue with South Korea in 2016, said Thomas Countryman, the former acting secretary of state for arms control, who chaired the first meeting of the dialogue.
“It’s not immediately clear what is new in President Yoon’s statement and what is a restatement of things that are already happening,” Countryman said in a telephone interview Monday.
Countryman said Yoon’s comments, directed at the South Korean people, appeared to be a response to what he called North Korea’s provocations and rhetoric.
“I see this as an effort by both President Yoon and the Biden administration to reassure the government and people of South Korea that the US commitment remains solid.”
At a meeting of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party last week, Kim Jong-un said South Korea had become an “undoubted enemy” and was rolling out new military targets, hinting at another year of intense weapons testing and tension.
Inter-Korean ties have long been tested, but have frayed even more since Yoon took office in May, promising a tougher stance on North Korea.
North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile off the east coast on Sunday in a rare weapons test late on New Year’s Day, following three ballistic missiles launched on Saturday.