US and South Korea issue nuclear warning to Pyongyang as they reaffirm alliance

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The US and South Korean presidents have reaffirmed their alliance, agreeing that nuclear-armed submarines will resume port visits and threatening a “swift, overwhelming and decisive response” to any North Korean nuclear attack, including in-kind retaliation by the US.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said the response would include US nuclear weapons, making explicit an element of the alliance that is not normally mentioned.

Yoon and Joe Biden issued a joint statement marking the 70th anniversary of the alliance, during a visit by the South Korean leader to Washington on Wednesday.

“A North Korean nuclear strike against the United States or its partners is unacceptable and would result in the end of any regime that took action,” Biden said.

“I have absolute authority, and exclusive authority, to launch a nuclear weapon, but what the declaration means is that we will consult with our allies, if any action is required.”

The visit and the statement came at a time of growing unease in South Korea over North Korea‘s nuclear buildupand calls on Seoul to develop its own nuclear arsenal. The Biden administration is trying to reassure South Koreans about the US commitment.

In the statement, Biden said the commitment was “iron” and that any North Korean nuclear attack on South Korea would be “met with a swift, overwhelming and decisive response.” Extended US deterrence, he said, was “supported by the full range of US capabilities, including nuclear.”

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The statement also said the allies would consult more extensively “to defend against possible attacks and nuclear use and conduct simulations to inform joint planning efforts.”

To underline the presence of the nuclear umbrella, US ballistic submarines armed with nuclear missiles will visit ports in South Korea for the first time since 1991.

“The deployment of strategic assets will be done steadily and routinely,” Yoon said.

“Nuclear weapons are a source of global insecurity and are at the center of the crisis on the Korean peninsula. Adding more of these weapons to the equation, even temporarily, will not make the United States or South Korea safer or more secure,” said Derek Johnson, managing partner at Global Zero, a disarmament advocacy group.

“This is far more likely to aggravate, rather than alleviate, pressures in the region, which could catastrophically spill over at any moment.”

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