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PoliticsSouth Korea

US, South Korea defense chiefs vow to expand cooperation

January 31, 2023

Lloyd Austin and Lee Jong-sup have agreed to increase joint military drills after a year in which North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests.

Lloyd Austin and Lee Jong-sup
Austin sought to reassure his Korean counterparts of Washington's supportImage: Kim Hong-Ji/AFP via Getty Images

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in South Korea on Tuesday to hold talks with his counterpart Lee Jong-sup. Seoul has been seeking greater assurances from Washington amidst the growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

Austin said that "tabletop exercises" would ensure allies see North Korean threats on the peninsula "eye-to-eye." He promised that the US "is commited to using the full range of conventional and nuclear deterrants to protect South Korea."

The two countries also affirmed a trilateral defense relationship with Japan, with whom Seoul has long had a strained relationship. Austin said that cooperation with Tokyo "enhances all of our security."

Later on Tuesday, Austin will meet with President Yoon Suk-yeol.

NATO chief visits Seoul

Lloyd's visit came a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stopped in Seoul to boost ties for a joint response to threats from both North Korea and China.

Lee said that the had met the NATO chief during his trip, and that the alliance and South Korea were "strengthening extended deterrence aimed at preventing North Korea's...use of nuclear weapons."

Responding to Stoltenberg's request for more military assistance to Ukraine, Lee said they were "closely monitoring the Ukraine situation but won't elaborate on military support" at this time.

North Korean missile tests

North Korea launched an unprecendented amount of missile tests last year. Some of the rockets are believed to be powerful enough to reach the US mainland.

Intelligence officials in Washington have warned that leader Kim Jong un could be preparing to carry out the country's first test of a nuclear device since 2017.

es/rt (AP, Reuters)