(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of a press release from U.S. Department of Defense, minor edits in paras 7-10; CHANGES dateline)
By Kang Yoon-seung, Byun Duk-kun
SEOUL/WASHINGTON, May 18 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States held phone talks Wednesday to discuss North Korea's recent missile launches and its preparations for a possible nuclear test, Seoul's defense ministry said.
The talks between Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and his U.S. counterpart, Lloyd Austin, came amid concerns about the possibility of North Korean provocations, including another long-range missile test. It was their first phone call since Lee took office a week ago.
"The minister and the secretary shared the view that the situation in and out of the region, including the Korean Peninsula, is grave, and that close cooperation between the South and the U.S. is more important than at any other time," the ministry said in a press release.
"They pointed out the North's series of ballistic missile launches and recent preparations for a nuclear test are provocative acts that heighten tension on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia and significantly threaten international peace and security, and they strongly condemned them," it added.
Lee used the talks to stress the importance of the deployment of America's strategic assets to the peninsula, as the two sides discussed ways to keep a "robust" combined defense posture to counter the North's threats, according to the ministry.
Austin reaffirmed the U.S.' "ironclad" security commitment to the defense of South Korea, the ministry added.
The U.S. Department of Defense later said Austin also reaffirmed the U.S.' commitment to providing extended deterrence.
"During the call, Secretary Austin congratulated Minister Lee on his appointment and underscored the U.S. commitment to defend the ROK through both the U.S.-ROK combined defense posture and the U.S. extended deterrent," it said in a press release, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
"Secretary Austin and Minister Lee exchanged views on the security environment on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific region and affirmed the importance of maintaining the international rules-based order," it added.
Lee highlighted South Korea's policy priority of strengthening the bilateral alliance in order to increase Seoul's role as a "global pivotal state" on strategic issues, including the war in Ukraine, according the defense ministry.
The talks came as the allies are preparing for a summit between Presidents Yoon Suk-yeol and Joe Biden, set to take place in Seoul on Saturday. Biden is scheduled to arrive here on Friday for a three-day stay.
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