South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and his visiting US counterpart Joe Biden on Saturday agreed to begin discussions on expanding joint military exercises between the two countries amid growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.
The two reached the agreement during their first-ever summit in Seoul, which took place as both countries believed a nuclear test or intercontinental ballistic missile launch from the North was imminent and even could happen while Biden was touring the region, reports Yonhap News Agency.
"Both leaders agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula," a joint statement on the summit said.
Military exercises between the allies had been scaled back amid the Covid-19 pandemic and as part of efforts to engage the North under the previous administrations.
Yoon told a joint press conference after the summit that he and Biden discussed the need to hold "various forms" of exercises, including under the scenario of a nuclear attack from the North.
The statement said Biden also reaffirmed the US "extended deterrence" commitment to South Korea using the "full range of US defence capabilities, including nuclear, conventional and missile defence capabilities".
Extended deterrence is the notion that the US would deploy its full range of military assets to defend its ally, South Korea, in the event of a contingency.
Securing that commitment from Biden was seen as particularly important, as the North continues to advance its weapons programmes, testing missiles on 16 separate occasions this year alone, including its first test of an ICBM in over four years in March.
Yoon and Biden "condemn the DPRK's escalatory ballistic missile tests this year", the joint statement said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"President Yoon and I committed to strengthening our close engagement and work together to take on challenges of regional security, including addressing the threat posed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, by further strengthening our deterrence posture and working toward a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Biden said at the press conference.
The two leaders expressed concern over the recent Covid-19 outbreak in North Korea and offered to work with the international community to provide assistance to help fight the virus, according to the statement.
Biden told the press conference the US had offered vaccines to North Korea but received no response. Yoon has previously made repeated offers of vaccines and other medical supplies but has also been met with silence.
On whether he was open to meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Biden said "that would depend on whether he was sincere and whether he was serious".
Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, held three meetings with Kim for ultimately fruitless talks on dismantling the North's nuclear programme. (IANS)