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(2nd LD) S. Korea, U.S. not discussing joint nuclear exercises: White House

All News 14:25 January 03, 2023

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with NSC spokesperson's remarks, details; RECASTS headline, lead, dateline)

WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Jan. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States are not discussing "joint nuclear exercises" against North Korean threats, the White House confirmed Tuesday, hours after President Joe Biden said "no" to a reporter's question about whether the allies have been talking about the issue.

Speaking earlier in a media interview, President Yoon Suk Yeol said the two sides are in discussions on joint planning and drills involving nuclear assets in order for the effective implementation of "extended deterrence." He added the U.S. is "quite positive" about it.

"As President (Biden) said, we are not discussing joint nuclear exercises. The ROK is a non-nuclear weapons state," a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council (NSC) wrote in an email to Yonhap News Agency. ROK stands for South Korea's official name, the Republic of Korea.

Following their meeting in Phnom Penh in November last year, the official added, Biden and Yoon tasked their teams with planning for an "effective coordinated response to a range of scenarios, including nuclear use by North Korea."

"That is what the teams are working on," the official said.

Yoon's office also sought to head off the spread of a view that the allies may differ about the geopolitically sensitive issue, citing the jargon of "joint nuclear exercise."

"Joint nuclear exercise is a term used between nuclear powers," senior presidential secretary for press affairs Kim Eun-hye said in a statement.

Thus, Kim added, when a reporter asked Biden point blank if "joint nuclear exercises are being discussed," he apparently had to say, "No."

Kim said that consultations are under way between the allies on planning and implementing U.S. nuclear operations, as well as sharing related information.

Separately, a senior Biden administration official was quoted by Reuters as saying Seoul and Washington are "looking at enhanced information sharing, expanded contingencies and an eventual tabletop exercise."

South Korea and the U.S. agreed during their annual defense ministerial talks in November to strengthen their capabilities, information sharing and consultation process, as well as joint planning and execution, to deter and respond to the North's advancing nuclear and missile threats.

Since the launch of the conservative Yoon government in May last year, the allies have sought to beef up extended deterrence, which refers to Washington's commitment to the deployment of both nuclear and non-nuclear assets to defend Seoul.

The nuclear-armed North's Kim Jong-un regime has openly threatened a preemptive use of its tactical nuclear weapons against the South.




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