By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is backed by the "full range" of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear capabilities, a state department spokesperson said Wednesday, apparently dismissing the need for the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea.
Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesperson for the department, made the remarks as North Korea is widely anticipated to conduct a nuclear test in the near future.
"I think you saw President (Joe) Biden over the course of this administration affirm U.S. extended deterrence and the commitment to the ROK, using the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities," he said when asked about the possible deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
The call for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea has been growing, especially in Seoul, following a recent series of North Korean missile launches.
Pyongyang fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles, including one that flew over Japan, in eight rounds of missile tests since last month.
Seoul and Washington also believe the North may have completed all preparations for a nuclear test, which, if conducted, will mark North Korea's first nuclear test since September 2017 and seventh in history.
The U.S. apparently remains reluctant to deploy its nuclear arms to South Korea.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, spokesperson for the defense department, on Tuesday said the 28,500 U.S. troops already stationed in South Korea send a "signal of our commitment to our defense relationship and our security cooperation" with South Korea when asked if the U.S. may consider deploying strategic assets to South Korea.
Patel expressed concerns over North Korea's recent firing of artillery shells into buffer zones that it agreed to set up with South Korea in 2018 to help reduce military tension on the Korean Peninsula.
"The shelling that we've seen over the course of this week is a serious concern," he said. "It is further destabilizing towards the region and has the potential for adverse impacts on our allies and partners, respectfully Japan and the Republic of Korea with whom we continue to remain closely engaged on this."
He still reaffirmed U.S. commitment to engaging with North Korea.
"We have been consistent over the entirety of this administration that we believe dialogue without preconditions with the DPRK is a key facet of our ultimate goal here, which is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," said Patel, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
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