By Phil Stewart
SEOUL (Reuters) – The defence ministers of South Korea and the United States met on Monday for security talks, with discussions set to focus on jointly countering threats by North Korea, including through executing “extended deterrence” strategy.
The strategy, which holds that the U.S. will use strategic military assets, including nuclear forces, to defend its allies, has taken on a greater significance as North Korea pushes ahead with its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
South Korea’s Defence Minister Shin Won-sik welcomed his counterpart, Lloyd Austin, for the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), where they were also expected to review the blueprint for the future of the alliance.
The Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have cast a shadow over the meeting amid Pyongyang’s growing military cooperation with Moscow and questions about North Korea’s support for Hamas militants.
On Sunday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said at a dinner he hosted for SCM participants that the allies must stand ready for any provocations by North Korea, including a “Hamas-style surprise attack”.
At the reception, Austin reaffirmed that the U.S. commitment to defending South Korea involved the full range of American military capabilities, Yoon’s office said.
The defence ministers are also expected to discuss whether a military agreement signed by the two Koreas in 2018 should be suspended, a news report said on Monday. Yoon’s government has cited the agreement as an impediment to an effective military response to the North.
The agreement, sealed on the sidelines of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in, calls for ceasing “all hostile acts”, creating a no-fly zone around the border, and removing landmines and guard posts within the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone.
The meeting between Austin and Shin comes as Pyongyang is accused of shipping munitions to Russia in return for military technology support to help the North’s weapons programs.
On Sunday, the defence chiefs from South Korea, Japan and the United States also agreed to start as planned a real-time data sharing scheme on North Korean missiles in December, South Korea’s defence ministry said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle)
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