US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is set to arrive in Seoul on Monday for talks with his South Korean counterpart over deterrence against North Korean nuclear and missile threats, and other security issues, officials here said.
His trip comes as Seoul and Washington are striving to sharpen deterrence through reinforced combined military drills as well as their trilateral security coordination with Tokyo, in the wake of Pyongyang's missile provocations.
At their scheduled meeting Tuesday, Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup are expected to discuss joint efforts to strengthen the credibility of America's extended deterrence, according to the officials.
Extended deterrence means the United States' pledge to mobilize a full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its ally.
The two sides could touch on the discussion-based table-top exercise that the allies plan to hold in the US next month under the scenario of the North's potential use of nuclear weapons, according to observers.
The planned exercise has drawn keen attention amid the allies' push for a more effective, realistic approach to address threats from the North's pursuit of tactical nuclear arms under an aggressive nuclear policy.
Lee and Austin could also discuss ways to flesh out last year's trilateral summit agreement by the leaders of South Korea, the US and Japan to share missile warning data "in real time" to help address North Korean threats.
The issue of providing assistance to Ukraine in the war with Russia is likely to figure prominently at the talks. Washington announced a plan last week to send 31 battle tanks to Ukraine in a steady show of support for the European nation.
Austin could also use the meeting with Lee to explain the outcome of the summit between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House earlier this month.
At the summit, Biden threw his weight behind Japan's push to beef up its military capabilities under its newly revised key security documents. His backing came as some South Koreans still harbor doubts over the security push by Japan, which they believe has yet to fully atone for its colonial-era wrongdoings.
Lee and Austin had their last bilateral in-person talks at the annual Security Consultative Meeting at the Pentagon last November. (Yonhap)