US, South Korea OK plan to counter North's missiles
SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and South Korea approved a joint plan to deal with North Korean missiles carrying nuclear and biochemical warheads after Kim Jong Un's regime ratcheted up its threats of attack.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo approved the implementation of a plan to detect, disrupt and destroy North Korean missiles if needed, according to a joint statement released Monday after annual security talks between the two countries.
While the plan is based on conceptual scenarios of a North Korean attack, it underscores the rising urgency among U.S. and South Korean officials to prepare in case North Korea obtains the ability to tip a missile with a nuclear warhead. The Kim regime said in September it was willing to carry out a nuclear attack on its enemies at any point, and confirmed the resumption of operations at its main nuclear facility.
"We spoke candidly today about North Korean threats — nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, cyber, conventional military threats," Carter said at a joint press conference with Han. "Those threats continue to put at risk the peace and security of the peninsula, the region and the United States."
South Korea estimates that North Korea has 2,500 tons to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons. North Korea also possesses an arsenal of missiles that it says can strike the U.S. The country conducted its third nuclear test in 2013 and threatened this year to conduct a fourth one.
Carter's talks with Han coincided with the first bilateral summit between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul. The U.S. has been calling for greater cooperation between two of its biggest Asian allies to deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea and China's growing assertiveness in the region.
North Korean provocations "can be handled in the context" of U.S. alliances with both Japan and South Korea, Carter said, calling the two countries "essential longstanding" allies. The U.S. has more than 75,000 troops based in Japan and South Korea.
Relations between South Korea and Japan have deteriorated in recent years over historical and territorial animosity.