Joe Biden to unveil new efforts to protect South Korea from nukes

The president will announce specific new nuclear deterrence efforts as well as a new cyber security initiative, economic investments and an educational partnership

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol waves as him and his wife Kim Keon Hee stand before departing for the United States at the Seoul military airport in Seongnam, South Korea, on April 24, 2023.Lim Hun-jung (AP)

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President Joe Biden will use this week’s celebratory state visit by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to underscore that the U.S. is ready to step up its efforts to deter a North Korean attack on South Korea, according to senior administration officials.

Biden will announce specific new nuclear deterrence efforts as well as a new cyber security initiative, economic investments and an educational partnership, part of an effort to highlight the “breadth and depth” of the two countries’ relationship as they mark the 70th anniversary of their alliance, according to two officials who requested anonymity to discuss planning for Yoon’s visit.

One of the officials said Biden hopes to put a particular emphasis on the United States’ “iron clad” commitment to deterring nuclear action by North Korea as Pyongyang has stepped up ballistic missile tests, including flight-testing a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time earlier this month. The recent test is seen as a possible breakthrough in the North’s efforts to acquire a more powerful, harder-to-detect weapon targeting the continental United States.

The officials didn’t offer details on the new deterrence efforts but said that the U.S. is looking to send a clear message to Pyongyang about its “increasingly aggressive rhetoric.”

Biden also hopes to use the visit, which begins Tuesday, to underscore the importance of South Korea and Japan building on their security ties.

Biden has sought opportunities to help the historic rivals improve their long, fraught relationship as the Indo-Pacific region becomes increasingly complicated. He held trilateral meetings with Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that largely focused on the North Korea threat on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia last November and at the NATO summit in Madrid in June.

Last month, South Korea announced a plan to compensate Koreans who performed forced labor during Tokyo’s colonial rule that doesn’t require Japanese companies to contribute to the reparations.

Biden hailed the step as a “groundbreaking new chapter” in cooperation between the countries. Yoon followed up by visiting Tokyo later in March for talks with Kishida. It was the first summit between the two nations’ leaders since 2011.

Biden plans to highlight during this week’s visit that Yoon’s “courage and determination in rapprochement with Japan” is crucial for peace and stability, according to aides.

Ahead of the Yoon visit, the United States, South Korea and Japan conducted a joint missile defense exercise last week aimed at countering North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal.

Experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wants to pressure the United States into accepting North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power and hopes to negotiate an easing of sanctions from a position of strength.

The United States and South Korea conducted their biggest field exercises in years in March and have also held separate naval and aerial drills involving a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.

Yoon is the second ally to be honored by Biden with a state visit. French President Emmanuel Macron was honored with a state visit in December.

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