US President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday warned North Korea against any nuclear attack that would prompt a response that would "end" the regime in Pyongyang.
Speaking at a press conference after their meeting at the White House, the two leaders highlighted the strengthening of the American nuclear shield and their "unbreakable alliance", "forged in time of war and which flourished in peacetime,” Biden said.
"A nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies or partners is unacceptable and will bring about the end of any regime that decides to undertake such an action," warned the American president.
Mr Yoon for his part believed that peace with his northern neighbor rested on "overwhelming superior force", rather than "goodwill from the other side".
Strong in symbols, the South Korean president is the second foreign leader under the Biden presidency to be honored with a state visit after that of French President Emmanuel Macron last December.
The United States and South Korea agreed in a “Washington Declaration” adopted on Wednesday to significantly strengthen their defense cooperation, including nuclear, through closer “consultations”.
"Our two countries agreed to initiate immediate bilateral consultations in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack and promised to respond promptly and decisively using the full force of our alliance, including the nuclear weapons of the United States," Yoon said.
It is thus for the United States to reassure their South Korean ally, in the face of North Korea, which this year carried out a record level of ballistic missile fire.
The message is also addressed to China which, deplores Washington, would not use its influence enough to obtain a change of course in Pyongyang.
Beyond that, Washington is also sending the signal of its increasingly assertive commitment to the Asia-Pacific after having recently reinforced defense agreements with Australia, Japan and the Philippines, whose president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, is expected. May 1 at the White House.
Mr. Biden must also go to the next G7 summit in mid-May in Japan, then to Sydney for a "Quad" summit, which brings together the United States, Australia, Japan and India.
For Frank Aum, of the Institute for Peace in Washington, these announcements could however not have the expected effect.
"History shows that tightening deterrents not only does not deter North Korean military exercises but tends to exacerbate them," he said.
Among the measures decided within the framework of this “Washington Declaration” is the stopover of a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine in South Korea for the first time in four decades.
The deployment of this submarine equipped with ballistic missiles with nuclear heads, must however remain "occasional".
Furthermore, this “Washington Declaration” sets up a mechanism for consultation and information exchange with Seoul on nuclear deterrence.
"The United States hasn't taken such action, really, since the days of the Cold War with a handful of our closest allies in Europe," an official said on condition of anonymity.
However, the United States has no intention of stationing nuclear weapons in South Korea and Seoul reaffirms its commitment not to seek to acquire its own arsenal.
The two countries again reaffirm their objective of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Besides the submarines, there will be "a regular cadence of visits from bombers and aircraft carriers". But there will be no "permanent deployment of these means or nuclear weapons", assured the official.
Washington has also taken care to warn China beforehand, while Beijing is likely to denounce a new escalation in the region.
President Yoon had arrived to the cheers of a few hundred people gathered outside the White House and received military honors in a well-rehearsed ceremony.
The two leaders must still participate with their wives in a gala dinner in the evening.
Yoon is due to address both houses of Congress on Thursday before heading to Boston on Friday to visit the prestigious universities of MIT and Harvard, then return to Korea on Saturday.
26/04/2023 23:35:02 - Washington (AFP) - © 2023 AFP