South Korea not considering redeploying tactical nuclear weapons - defense minister

WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Reuters) - South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said on Thursday that he did not believe tactical nuclear weapons were for now needed to deter North Korea following its latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

"There is no change in our denuclearization policy and for now ... we are currently not thinking to deploy tactical nukes on the Korean peninsula," Lee told reporters after his meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.

North Korea's repeated missile tests and expectations that Pyongyang will carry out a seventh nuclear test are raising questions about whether Washington and Seoul can effectively deter it from regularly threatening them.

Lee's comments suggest that despite a recent spate of North Korean missiles tests, the United States and South Korean alliance is not looking to make major changes to its military posture in the region.

In the news conference, Austin also said the United States did not have any plan to permanently put nuclear-capable assets on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea fired multiple missiles into the sea on Thursday, including a possible failed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), prompting the United States and South Korea to extend air drills that have angered Pyongyang.

The United States occasionally flies nuclear-capable bombers near, but not over, North Korea in a show of force after they carry out provocative actions like a nuclear test.

In 1958, the United States deployed tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula. It pulled them out in 1991, but has continued to extend its "nuclear umbrella" to South Korea by vowing to use all of America's capabilities to defend against an attack.

On his campaign trail, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol had suggested the United States could redeploy its tactical nuclear weapons to Korea, but later backtracked.

Lee added that North Korea was ready to carry out a nuclear test but it was not clear when Pyongyang would actually do it.

South Korea said in October that a new nuclear test would face an "unparalleled" response from the allies - but it's unclear what measures would not retread old ground.

In a joint statement, the two defense ministers agreed to seek new measures to demonstrate the alliance's "determination and capabilities" following repeated North Korean provocations, according to a joint statement between the two countries.

Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sandra Maler

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Thomson Reuters

Phil Stewart has reported from more than 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and South Sudan. An award-winning Washington-based national security reporter, Phil has appeared on NPR, PBS NewsHour, Fox News and other programs and moderated national security events, including at the Reagan National Defense Forum and the German Marshall Fund. He is a recipient of the Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence and the Joe Galloway Award.

Thomson Reuters

National security correspondent focusing on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Reports on U.S. military activity and operations throughout the world and the impact that they have. Has reported from over two dozen countries to include Iraq, Afghanistan, and much of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. From Karachi, Pakistan.