Asked by a reporter at the White House after returning from vacation in St. Croix whether he is “discussing joint nuclear excercises with South Korea right now,” Biden answered: “No.”
He didn’t elaborate and spokespeople for the White House National Security Council didn’t respond to a request to clarify his remark.
South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper in an interview published Monday that “while the nuclear weapons belong to the US, intel sharing, planning, and training should be done jointly” and the US’s stance on the matter was “quite positive.”
South Korea’s presidential office confirmed the remarks. The US Embassy in Seoul didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday, a public holiday in South Korea.
Yoon said that the strategy of “nuclear umbrella” or “extended deterrence” is no longer reassuring for the public now that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons and a range of missiles to deliver them. Since taking power last May, Yoon has sought to put South Korea on a path of overwhelming military strength against North Korea, which has launched scores of missiles in defiance of United Nations resolutions and is preparing for another nuclear test.
Over the weekend, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to increase his nuclear arsenal in 2023 to stifle US and South Korean hostile acts following a nearly weeklong party meeting. He left almost no opening for a return to long-stalled disarmament talks, calling instead for an “exponential increase” of Pyongyang’s weaponry.
North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles on the last day of the year and then launched one more a few hours after the new year began, in a defiant show of force that could set the tone for a further ratcheting up of tensions. Last week, Kim’s regime sent five drones across the border into South Korea, temporarily disrupting flights at major airports.
--With assistance from Sangmi Cha and Jenny Leonard.