Biden denies US in talks on nuclear exercises with South Korea

The United States is not discussing joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, US President Joe Biden has said, appearing to contradict remarks by his South Korean counterpart, President Yoon Suk-yeol, that Washington and Seoul were in talks on exercises involving US nuclear assets.

The South Korean president said in a newspaper interview that Seoul and Washington were in “talks on joint planning and exercises involving US nuclear assets to counter North Korea’s nuclear threats”.

Asked by reporters at the White House on Monday if he was currently discussing joint nuclear exercises with South Korea, Biden said, “No”.

President Yoon’s comments, in an interview published in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper on Monday, come at a time of growing tension with North Korea, which test-launched an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles in 2022 and has promised to robustly counter what it views as military planning by the US and South Korea for a possible invasion.

In response to North Korea’s sabre rattling, Yoon has taken an increasingly tough stance and has called for “war preparation” with an “overwhelming” capability.

The newspaper quoted Yoon as saying the joint planning and exercises would be aimed at more effective implementation of the US “extended deterrence”, which refers to the ability of the US military — particularly its nuclear forces — to deter attacks on US allies.

To better respond to North Korea’s nuclear threats, Seoul wants to take part in the operation of US nuclear forces, Yoon told the newspaper.

“The nuclear weapons belong to the United States, but planning, information sharing, exercises and training should be jointly conducted by South Korea and the United States,” Yoon said, adding Washington is also “quite positive” about the idea.

On Tuesday, Yoon’s senior secretary for press affairs, Kim Eun-hye, said that Biden had to say no when asked such a direct question on such a sensitive matter, according to South Korea’s Yonhap press agency.

“When the Reuters reporter asked him point blank if joint nuclear exercises were being discussed, President Biden obviously had to say, ‘No’,” Kim said in a statement, according to Yonhap.