South Korea-US summit concludes with nuclear-weapon sub-agreement

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US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol will sign an agreement to send US submarines carrying nuclear weapons to South Korea during a much-anticipated summit at the White House, according to US officials.

The agreement will be announced Wednesday when the two leaders meet in Washington, D.C. to mark the two countries’ 70-year alliance. Yoon is only the second leader, after France’s Emmanuel Macron, to be received by Biden on an official state visit to the White House since the US president took office in 2021.

The deployment of submarines will be an important part of a broader strategy aimed at deterring North Korea from launching an attack on its neighbor, three senior Biden administration officials told reporters on condition of anonymity.

That plan, dubbed the “Washington Declaration,” will be announced as North Korea’s increased pace of ballistic missile testing — and its apparent recent breakthrough — has heightened anxiety among the US and its regional allies.

The deployment of nuclear-armed submarines to the Korean peninsula “has not been seen since the early 1980s,” a senior official told reporters, adding that they would be among a series of “strategic assets” that regularly visit South Korea. Korea would be deployed “to make our deterrence more visible”.

That would include a “regular cadence” of other major platforms, “including bombers or aircraft carriers,” the official said.

“We will enhance our training, exercises and simulation activities to improve the US-ROK (Republic of Korea) Alliance’s approach to deter and defend against North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), including by using the conventional means of the better integrate ROK into our strategic planning,” the official said, referring to South and North Korea by their official acronyms.

U.S. nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines made regular port visits to South Korea in the late 1970s during the Cold War, a period when the U.S. had hundreds of nuclear warheads stationed in South Korea.

In 1991, the US withdrew all of its nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula, and the following year Seoul and Pyongyang signed a joint statement pledging that neither would “test, produce, manufacture, receive, possess, stockpile, deploy, or use nuclear weapons “. .

But as Pyongyang has repeatedly violated the joint statement over the years, there is more support in South Korea for the US to return nuclear weapons to the country.

A poll released April 6 by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul found that 64 percent of South Koreans supported the development of nuclear weapons, while 33 percent opposed it.

Meanwhile, intensified testing by North Korea, including the test flights of a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month, has raised further concerns for the first time. The test was seen as a potential breakthrough in Pyongyang’s efforts to acquire a more powerful, harder-to-detect weapon that could target the mainland US.

US officials who gave reporters a preview of the new initiative stressed that there are currently no plans to station US nuclear weapons in South Korea. As part of the statement, they said, South Korea will reaffirm its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the officials said.

The officials added that aides to Biden and Yoon have been working on the details of the plan for months and agreed that “occasional” and “very clear demonstrations of the strength” of the expanded U.S. deterrence capabilities are an essential part of the agreement should be.

An official said steps are being taken in advance to ease potential tensions with Beijing over the tougher military stance.

“We inform the Chinese in advance and explain very clearly why we are taking these steps,” the official said, adding that the Biden administration is “disappointed that China has not been prepared to use its influence on North Korea.” .

Support for Ukraine

In addition to the deterrence plan, Biden and Yoon are also expected to discuss Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The Biden administration has recently praised South Korea for sending about $230 million in humanitarian aid to Kiev, but has indicated it would like Seoul to play an even bigger role in supporting Kiev.

Yoon’s visit came just weeks after the leak of highly classified US documents, including one that appeared to indicate that South Korea’s National Security Council “wrestled” with the US over a request to supply artillery munitions to Ukraine in early March.

A Biden administration official said Biden planned to talk to Yoon about “what it means for all like-minded allies to continue to support Ukraine” and ask the South Korean leader “what the future of their support might look like to see”.

On Tuesday, Yoon and Biden visited the Korean War Memorial — life-sized steel statues of American soldiers who marched during the 1950-53 war against the North.

Yoon also laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and accompanied US Vice President Kamala Harris for a tour of a NASA space facility near Washington, DC.

There will be a state dinner at the White House on Wednesday evening.

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