US President Joe Biden said the US does not discuss joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, apparently contradicting statements by his South Korean counterpart, President Yoon Sok Yol, that Washington and Seoul are in talks about the exercises involving US nuclear assets.
The South Korean president said in an interview that Seoul and Washington were having “discussions on joint planning and exercises involving US nuclear assets to counter nuclear threats from North Korea.”
Asked by reporters at the White House on Monday if he was currently discussing joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, Biden replied, “No.”
President Yun’s remarks, in an interview published Monday by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, come at a time of heightened tension with North Korea, which has tested an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles in 2022 and vowed to forcefully confront what it sees militarily. Planning by the United States and South Korea for a possible invasion.
In response to North Korea’s saber-rattling, Yoon took an increasingly hard line and called for “war readiness” in an “overwhelming” capacity.
The newspaper quoted Yoon as saying that the joint planning and maneuvers aim to more effectively implement the United States’ “extended deterrence,” which refers to the ability of the US military – especially its nuclear forces – to deter attacks on America’s allies.
Yoon told the newspaper that to better respond to North Korea’s nuclear threats, Seoul wants to participate in the operations of the US nuclear forces.
“Nuclear weapons belong to the United States, but planning, information exchange, training and training should be done jointly by South Korea and the United States,” Yoon said, adding that Washington was “very positive” about the idea.
On Tuesday, Yoon’s chief press secretary, Kim Eun-hee, said Biden should say no when asked such a direct question on such a sensitive topic, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
“When a Reuters reporter was bluntly asked if joint nuclear exercises were being discussed, it was clear that President Biden should have said no,” Kim was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
“South Korea and the United States are in talks on sharing information and joint planning and subsequent joint implementation plans regarding the exploitation of US nuclear assets to respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons,” he said.
Seoul and Washington’s contradictory statement seems bewildering.
Despite Biden’s comment, South Korea’s presidential office continues to insist that the United States and South Korea are in talks to give South Korea a greater role in the operations of US nuclear forces.
A statement now from Kim Eun Hye, Senior Presidential Secretary for Press Affairs: pic.twitter.com/PcJ8UapAEw
– William Gallo (GaloVOA) January 3, 2023
A senior Biden administration official seemed to provide some clarification when he told the Reuters news agency that joint nuclear exercises were not planned with South Korea because Seoul is not a nuclear power.
The official said the United States and South Korea are looking to improve information sharing and possibly expand emergency drills and tables.
The United States has long had an expanded deterrence dialogue with Japan to talk about nuclear issues and started the same dialogue with South Korea in 2016, said Thomas Countryman, former Under Secretary of State for Nuclear Control, who presided over the first meeting of the dialogue.
“It’s not immediately clear what’s new in President Yoon’s statement and what is a reaffirmation of things that are already happening,” Countryman said in a phone interview Monday.
His compatriot said that Yoon’s remarks addressed to the South Korean people appeared to be in response to what he described as North Korea’s provocations and rhetoric.
“I see this as an attempt by both President Yoon and the Biden administration to reassure the government and people of South Korea that the commitment of the United States remains unwavering.”
At a meeting of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party last week, Kim Jong Un said South Korea had become an “indisputable enemy” and set new military targets, hinting at another year of intense weapons testing and tension.
Inter-Korean relations have always been tense, but they have been even more so since Yoon took office in May, promising a tougher stance on North Korea.
North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile off its east coast on Sunday in a rare weapons test late on New Year’s Eve, after firing three ballistic missiles on Saturday.