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(3rd LD) S. Korea, U.S. discussing deployment of "strategic" assets in South

2016/01/07 16:42

(ATTN: UPDATES with military readiness in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Jan. 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States are discussing ways to deploy "strategic" U.S. military assets in the Northeast Asian country, the Ministry of National Defense said Thursday following North Korea's nuclear test a day earlier.

"Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Lee Sun-jin and U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti held a face-to-face meeting in the afternoon yesterday and discussed the deployment of U.S. strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula," an official representing the ministry said on a background briefing.

Key high-end U.S. military assets deployable to the peninsula include a nuclear-powered submarine, the F-22 stealth combat fighter and the B-52 bomber which the U.S. has previously dispatched in a show of force during times of North Korea's military provocations.

"Specifics, including when the strategic assets will come here, have not been concluded yet," the official said, only adding that "various ideas are under review."

   On Wednesday, North Korea announced that is has successfully conducted a hydrogen bomb test in the morning during what the outside world condemned as the fourth nuclear test by the communist country.

The defense chiefs of South Korea and China are also considering a telephone conference on their recently-established military hotline about the test, the official also added.

Hours after the late-morning nuclear test on Wednesday, Defense Minister Han Min-koo held a phone conference with U.S. counterpart Ashton Carter and discussed how to tighten their security collaboration after the North conducted another nuclear test, its fourth.

"Secretary Carter reaffirmed the U.S.' ironclad defense commitment to South Korea, and this includes all kinds of extended deterrence assets," Han said in a joint press release with Carter earlier in the day.

Han and Carter also shared their determination that North Korea will not be recognized in the international community as a country that legitimately possesses nuclear capabilities, according to the joint release.

"Both ministers agreed that North Korea should pay a price that is proportional to the provocation," Han said.

South Korea and the U.S. are on the same page in condemning the latest North Korean nuclear test as "a clear violation of international law" and "unpardonable provocations that pose threats to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the Asia-Pacific region," Han also noted.

The ministers will "tightly collaborate" under the South Korea-U.S. alliance to deal with threats from North Korea's nuclear arms, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, he added.

South Korea will push for the early installation of its Kill Chain and Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) to guard against missile and nuclear threats from North Korea, Han said, referring to the indigenous defense systems that Seoul had originally aimed to complete by the mid-2020s.

The allies' defense ministries will continue with their regular joint war exercises and devise customized deterrence systems, said the joint press release, which was read by Defense Minister Han while flanked by U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lee Sun-jin.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo (C) says U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has assured Han of his country's ironclad defense commitment to defending South Korea on Jan. 7, 2016, one day after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test. (Yonhap) Defense Minister Han Min-koo (C) says U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has assured Han of his country's ironclad defense commitment to defending South Korea on Jan. 7, 2016, one day after North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test. (Yonhap)

Lee also convened a meeting of the military's operational commanders on Thursday as the military leaders are preparing for potential military provocations by North Korea.

"The possibility of further North Korean provocations could rise depending on future developments," Lee said during the meeting. "Every unit should stand vigilant about the enemy's movements and maintain readiness to hit back resolutely if the enemy provokes," the chairman told the commanders.

pbr@yna.co.kr

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