SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea and the United States will stage tabletop exercises in Washington next week to improve operations of American nuclear assets as part of efforts to better counter North Korea’s threats, Seoul’s defence ministry said on Friday.

Nuclear-armed North Korea fired an unprecedented number of missiles last year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could strike anywhere in the United States, while resuming preparations for its first nuclear test since 2017.

The drills, called the Deterrence Strategy Committee Tabletop Exercise, are scheduled for Feb. 22 at the Pentagon and will involve senior defence policymakers from both sides, the ministry said.

It would be their first such exercises since the two countries agreed last year to hold them annually, as Seoul seeks to bolster confidence in American extended deterrence – its military capability, especially nuclear forces, to deter attacks on its allies.

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The South Korean delegation will be led by Deputy Defence Minister Heo Tae-keun; the U.S. team will be led by Siddharth Mohandas, deputy assistant defence secretary for East Asia, and Richard Johnson, deputy assistant defence secretary for nuclear and countering weapons of mass destruction policy.

“With a focus on North Korea’s nuclear threats, both sides will have in-depth discussions on various measures to strengthen U.S. extended deterrence, including information sharing and consultation procedures,” the ministry said in a statement.

On Feb. 23, the officials will visit the Kings Bay naval base in Georgia that houses key nuclear submarines.

The allies have said they were working to boost joint nuclear planning and implementation as well as information sharing.

In May, both sides’ militaries will stage their own tabletop exercises for the first time, which will be “far more concrete and substantive” than the upcoming programmes.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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