S.Korea, U.S. sign new pact to deter N.Korea nuclear threat

Reuters

By David Alexander and Jack Kim

SEOUL, Oct 2 (Reuters) - The United States and South Koreasigned a new pact to deter North Korea's potential use ofnuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction amid growingthreats from Pyongyang, their defense chiefs said on Wednesday.

The defense ministers also agreed to review the timing ofthe transfer of war-time command control of their combinedforces on the Korean peninsula from the U.S. military to SouthKorea, a joint statement issued after their meeting said.

The transfer is scheduled to take place in December 2015,but there have been calls in South Korea for it to be postponedwhile North Korea continues to push ahead with its nuclearweapons and long-range missile programmes.

"Of particular concern are North Korea's nuclear andballistic missile programmes, its proliferation activities, andits chemical weapons," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told ajoint news conference with South Korea's Kim Kwan-jin.

"Given these concerns, as Minister Kim noted, today wesigned a bilateral strategy for tailored deterrence against thethreat of North Korean nuclear weapons and other weapons of massdestruction," he said.

The ministers did not give any immediate indication of what the "tailored deterrence" strategy might entail despitequestions from the media. Hagel said it was prompted by a recentpush by Pyongyang to build and deploy nuclear weapons.

"It has increased its capabilities, its missilecapabilities, its three nuclear tests. So that is constantlyforcing a review of our strategies."

South Korean media reported the new strategy involved theuse of all available military assets to launch a pre-emptivestrike against the North if there is a clear indication of animminent nuclear attack by Pyongyang.

A senior U.S. defense official denied the pact addressed thepossibility of such a strike and said it provided a frameworkfor discussions on the use of various defense capabilities togenerate an effective deterrent against the North.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February,two months after successfully launching a long-range rocket thatput an object, which Pyongyang says was a satellite, into space.

The launch resulted in tougher U.N. sanctions against theimpoverished and isolated North by trying to cut off its armstrade, which had been a lucrative source of income, and disruptfinancial transactions in support of those activities.

The 2012 rocket launch was widely seen as a test of itslong-range missile capabilities, despite Pyongyang's claims thatit was part of its peaceful space project.

Intelligence analysis indicates North Korea has restarted aSoviet-era nuclear reactor at its main Yongbyon atomic complex,which previously produced plutonium that experts believe wasused to build up to 10 nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang is believed to have made progress in its pursuitof nuclear arms through its three tests but experts say there isno clear indication yet that it has mastered the technology tominiaturise a device to fit on a missile to deliver it.

The joint statement by the two ministers, which noted "theintensifying North Korean nuclear and missile threats" and theimportance of "conditions-based" command transfer, indicatedthat discussions about the transfer were under way.

The transfer of command was initially discussed eight yearsago and was originally set for 2012, before it was pushed backto 2015 to allow more time for the South's military to take overresponsibility.

Hagel ends an unprecedented four-day visit to South Korea onWednesday. He watched as the South marked an armed forces daythis week showcasing indigenously developed missiles designed totarget the North's artillery and missiles.

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