(ATTN: UPDATES with additional remarks from Kirby, more background in last 5 paras)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, April 24 (Yonhap) -- The United States will do whatever is necessary to help defend its key ally South Korea, a National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson said Monday, after Russia threatened to arm North Korea should South Korea provide lethal assistance to Ukraine.
John Kirby, NSC coordinator for strategic communications, also insisted that sending any new military capability to North Korea will not benefit anyone.
"We are going to continue to look for ways to deepen and improve this alliance that we have with the Republic of Korea, which we take seriously," Kirby told a press briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center, referring to South Korea by its official name.
"Our commitment, our obligation to defend the Republic of Korea is ironclad, and the United States will continue to do what it has to do to make sure we meet that commitment," added Kirby when asked to comment on the Russian threat to arm North Korea.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said that Moscow may consider sending its latest advanced weapons to North Korea if South Korea provides lethal assistance to Ukraine.
The rare threat from the former Russian leader came after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said in a recent interview that South Korea may be forced to consider sending more than humanitarian assistance to Ukraine if Russia conducts massive attacks against civilians in Ukraine.
Kirby said there has been no signs of deepening military relations between Pyongyang and Moscow, but insisted that providing any new military capabilities to North Korea would only increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which he said will not be in anyone's interest.
"We would argue that what needs to happen on the peninsula is the denuclearization, de-escalation of tensions, and providing capabilities in any context to make the security environment on the Korean Peninsula less secure and less stable is to no one's benefit," he said.
In addition, Kirby said the United States already appreciates the assistance South Korea has provided to Ukraine and what kinds of assistance South Korea provides in the future is entirely up to the country.
"I think it's worth noting (that) the Republic of Korea has already contributed more than US$200 million, I think it's like $250 million, in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. They have really stepped up. They have also been very vocal about condemning Russia's aggression and being out there in front on that, and we are very grateful for that," he told the press briefing.
"The Republic of Korea's support for Ukraine has been largely in the non-lethal category. Only President Yoon and the Korean people can decide whether they want to change that and send additional or different kinds of capability," he added.
The NSC official emphasized the importance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance as the South Korean president was set to begin a state visit to the United States later in the day.
"Under the Biden-Harris administration, the U.S.-ROK alliance has grown far beyond the Korean Peninsula, and is now a force for good literally in the Indo-Pacific, quite frankly around the world," said Kirby.
"What we are going to talk about over the next couple of days is how strong this alliance is, how committed the United States is to our security commitments on the peninsula and to the Korean people. And we're going to talk about ways we can broaden and deepen that relationship," he added.
Yoon and President Joe Biden will hold a bilateral summit on Wednesday, followed by a state dinner at the White House.
On the upcoming summit, the NSC coordinator said the two leaders will discuss ways to further strengthen U.S. extended deterrence amid North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile capabilities.
"I think you can absolutely expect that the notion of extended deterrence and how we can continue to improve and strengthen our ability to contribute to this, to the mutual security commitments in the alliance, I think, will certainly be front and center" of the summit, he said.
North Korea has fired nearly 100 missiles since the start of last year, while it remains fully prepared to conduct what will be its seventh nuclear test "at any time," according to officials here and in Seoul.
"I will take this opportunity to stress that we reiterate our call to the regime in Pyongyang that we are willing to sit down without preconditions to talk about the denuclearization of the peninsula, complete denuclearization of the peninsula," said Kirby.
"They (North Koreans) have not taken us up on that offer. So in the meantime, we have got to make sure that the alliance is ready across a spectrum of military capabilities to defend our mutual and our shared interests," he added.
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