The United States will deploy a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in decades, as part of a new deal that will signal Washington’s commitment to defend Seoul against North Korea’s growing nuclear threats, US officials said.
The plan to dock the ballistic missile submarines in South Korea, which hasn’t happened since the 1980s, spearheads an effort to make the US deterrence against the Kim Jong Un regime «more visible», according to senior administration officials. It will also see the US vow to give its ally a bigger role in any response to a possible nuclear attack.
President Joe Biden and his counterpart, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, will unveil the new deal in Washington on Wednesday, the officials said.
The Washington Declaration, as it is known, will not involve the United States deploying nuclear weapons in the South, as it did during the Cold War, the officials said. Instead, the US will temporarily increase the amount of military assets it sends to the country, such as a nuclear-armed submarine and bombers.
Polls show that more and more South Koreans want their government to develop their own nuclear weapons, prompted by questions about whether Washington, distracted by the escalating standoff with China, would protect them in a conflict with the nuclear-armed North.
The United States would oppose this development, also prohibited by international treaty.
The new steps are designed to be «viewed by the Korean public,» and the agreement also establishes a new framework through which the Seoul government can have a greater say in any response to a crisis, an official said.
In return, an official added, South Korea would reaffirm its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, known as the NPT, which prohibits countries from seeking nuclear weapons.
The officials briefed journalists on condition of anonymity before the official announcement.
By contrast, North Korea is not a signatory to the treaty and, in recent years, under the leadership of leader Kim, has come a long way in developing its suspect stockpile about 20 nuclear weapons.
Earlier this month, North Korea launched its first solid-fueled ICBM, in what analysts say is a significant advance in the country’s efforts to build a nuclear arsenal that is harder to detect and capable of threatening anything. part of the continental US
US and South Korean officials also say North Korea is preparing for its seventh nuclear test, which would be its first since 2017.
Yoon, a former prosecutor who was elected last year, arrived in Washington on Monday for a six-day state visit as the United States and South Korea commemorate the 70th anniversary of their alliance, dating to the end of the Korean War. He and Biden will hold a summit on Wednesday, and Yoon will address a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday.
It is the first US state visit by a South Korean leader in 12 years and the first by an Indo-Pacific leader during the Biden administration, which is focusing more intensely on the strategically important region as it tries to counter growing influence. China.
Yoon’s visit follows the biggest joint US-South Korean military exercises in years, largely aimed at countering North Korea’s nuclear threat.
The two countries are also stepping up their security coordination with Japan, holding trilateral defense talks in Washington this month. Biden is also expected to encourage Yoon to further improve ties with Tokyo, with which Seoul has long had a strained relationship.
carolina kenny contributed.