The two allied nations issued a joint communique on Thursday after a meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his South Korean counterpart, Lee Jong-sup, at the Pentagon.
Austin reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to provide South Korea “the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities and advanced non-nuclear capabilities.”
He said that “any nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners, including the use of non-strategic nuclear weapons, is unacceptable and will result in the end of the Kim regime,” according to the statement.
Austin said at a joint press conference that North Korea’s activities are destabilizing the region. “So we call on [North Korea] to cease that type of activity and to begin to engage in serious dialogue,” he said.
US, South Korea Extend Air Drill
The joint statement followed a series of North Korean missile launches this week. Among them, South Korea’s military said North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday, but the launch may have been unsuccessful.
The suspected ICBM launch prompted the United States and South Korea to extend their joint air drill to Nov. 5. The Vigilant Storm drill involved 240 military aircraft from both sides plus an air refueling tanker from the Royal Australian Air Force.
“I’ve consulted with Minister Lee, and we’ve decided to extend Vigilant Storm, which is our long-scheduled combined training exercise, to further bolster our readiness and interoperability,” Austin said.
North Korea denounced the decision as a “dangerous and false choice.” Pak Jong-chon, secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, warned that the extended air drill would result in “an uncontrollable phase,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.
The Kim regime views the U.S.-South Korea joint drills as an “invasion rehearsal” and has responded with a barrage of missile launches. North Korea fired three ballistic missiles on Thursday, one of which is believed to be the aforementioned ICBM, after launching over 20 missiles the day before.
South Korea’s military responded to Wednesday’s missile launches with three air-to-ground missiles, which officials said landed a similar distance past the Northern Limit Line (NLL)—the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol held an emergency National Security Council meeting on Wednesday and ordered that “strict measures” be taken to ensure that North Korea “pays a clear price for its provocation.”