(ATTN: UPDATES with details on Nuclear Consultative Group)
By Lee Haye-ah
WASHINGTON, April 26 (Yonhap) -- President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed Wednesday to significantly strengthen Washington's nuclear commitment to South Korea, promising "swift, overwhelming, and decisive" action in the event of North Korea's nuclear attack.
Yoon announced the agreement during a joint press conference following summit talks with Biden at the White House, outlining a joint statement, dubbed the "Washington Declaration," that they adopted to strengthen "extended deterrence" against the North's nuclear and missile threats.
Extended deterrence refers to the U.S. commitment to mobilizing all of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its ally.
"South Korea and the United States agreed to immediately hold talks between their leaders in the event of North Korea's nuclear attack, and through them, promised to take swift, overwhelming and decisive action using all of the alliance's military capabilities, including U.S. nuclear weapons," Yoon said at the White House Rose Garden.
Yoon said the two countries agreed to establish a Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) in order to operate the new extended deterrence system in more detail.
The allies will share information on nuclear and strategic operations and planning and hold regular discussions on how to plan and execute joint operations combining South Korea's cutting-edge conventional capabilities with the U.S. nuclear capabilities, he said.
A presidential official later told reporters in Washington the NCG will be led by deputy minister-level officials from the two countries. In South Korea, a deputy minister ranks third, after the minister and vice minister.
The group will meet every quarter, four times a year, and report the results of their meetings to their respective presidents.
"We, the two leaders, agreed to dramatically strengthen the two countries' extended deterrence against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats in order to achieve peace through an overwhelming superiority of strength, not a fake peace that relies on the other party's good will," Yoon said.
The two countries will further develop table-top simulation exercises to prepare against a nuclear crisis and regularly and continuously deploy U.S. strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula, Yoon said, while the declaration said a U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine will soon visit South Korea.
The leaders also agreed to continue cooperation to further strengthen extended deterrence.
"President Biden reaffirmed the ironclad extended deterrence commitment to South Korea," Yoon said.
At the press conference, Biden issued a stern warning to the North.
"A nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States, its allies or partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of whatever regime were to take such an action," he said.
The Washington Declaration follows months of work between the allies amid questions about the credibility of the U.S. extended deterrence commitment to South Korea and calls for the country's own nuclear armament as North Korea advances its nuclear and missile capabilities.
As a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, South Korea is banned from developing its own nuclear weapons, while the U.S. maintains a longstanding policy of upholding the nonproliferation regime.
In the declaration, the two leaders made clear those positions will not change.
"The ROK has full confidence in U.S. extended deterrence commitments and recognizes the importance, necessity, and benefit of its enduring reliance on the U.S. nuclear deterrent," it said, using the acronym for South Korea's formal name, the Republic of Korea.
"President Yoon reaffirmed the ROK's longstanding commitment to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation regime as well as to the U.S.-ROK Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy," it said.
Yoon is on a six-day state visit to the U.S. as the two countries mark the 70th anniversary of the bilateral alliance that emerged from the 1950-53 Korean War.
A joint statement following the summit showed the two leaders covered a wide range of topics, including Russia's war in Ukraine, their commitment to diplomacy with North Korea, their deep concern over climate change, and their commitment to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.
In particular Yoon and Biden "condemned in the strongest possible terms" Russia's actions against civilians and critical infrastructure in Ukraine, while emphasizing the importance of trilateral cooperation between the U.S., South Korea and Japan.
Biden welcomed Yoon's "bold steps" toward improving the South Korea-Japan relationship, according to the statement.
The two leaders agreed to continue close consultations on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the CHIPS and Science Act to ensure they encourage mutually beneficial corporate investment in the U.S. amid concerns of South Korean businesses.
They also agreed to establish a bilateral Strategic Cybersecurity Cooperation Framework to expand cooperation on deterring cyber adversaries, increase the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure, combat cybercrime, and secure cryptocurrency and blockchain applications.
To further improve the two countries economic security, the leaders pledged to broaden cooperation on critical and emerging technologies, including through the establishment of a Next Generation Critical and Emerging Technologies Dialogue led by the two countries' National Security Councils.
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