SEOUL, Oct. 28 (Yonhap) -- Defense chiefs of South Korea and the U.S. on Friday agreed to pursue a joint operational plan to counter potential provocations by North Korea at their annual bilateral security meeting in Seoul.
After the 43rd Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said they "thought highly" of the development of the South Korea-U.S. Counter-Provocation Plan.
"Through this plan, both the minister and the secretary reaffirmed the need to advance the military deterrence capabilities of the (South Korea-U.S.) alliance in a more practical and concrete manner and also to improve response readiness in the event of a North Korean provocation," a joint statement by Kim and Panetta read. "The minister and the secretary reaffirmed that continued close bilateral planning for various scenarios, as well as extensive combined training and exercises, were critical to adequately prepare for future challenges on the (Korean) Peninsula."
The SCM is an annual meeting between the defense chiefs of the long-time allies, and is held alternately between Seoul and Washington. It's the first SCM for Panetta, who succeeded Robert Gates as the defense secretary in July.
In September, the defense ministry here said the South and the U.S. had agreed to complete the joint operational plan by the end of this year. Previously, only South Korean forces responded to North Korean provocations, and the joint plan is expected to help the South obtain U.S. assistance if needed, including forces stationed in South Korea and also in other places in the Asia-Pacific region.
In addition to some 650,000 South Korean troops, about 28,500 U.S. soldiers are stationed in South Korea, as a legacy of the
1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, and left the two Koreas technically at war.
"They (Kim and Panetta) perceived the increase of asymmetric military threats, such as North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missile developments, as a serious threat to global peace as well as the security of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia," the statement read. "They reaffirmed that any North Korean aggression or provocation is not to be tolerated and that the ROK (South Korea) and the United States will work shoulder to shoulder to demonstrate our combined resolve."
The minister and the secretary also agreed to formulate "a tailored bilateral deterrence strategy" to better counter nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats from North Korea.
They once again pressed North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and nuclear-related programs "in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way."
"The minister and the secretary also underscored that North Korea's uranium enrichment program (UEP), revealed last November, poses a grave threat as this program allows North Korea a second path to nuclear weapons development and increases the potential for onward proliferation of fissile material and sensitive technologies to other parties," the statement read. "They called on North Korea to demonstrate its genuine will toward denuclearization through concrete actions."
The two also said they will develop "combined readiness capabilities" in South Korea's northwestern islands near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a de facto maritime border in the Yellow Sea. The western waters have been the site of deadly naval skirmishes and North Korean provocations, including the North's torpedoing of the South Korean warship Cheonan and its shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year.
North Korea refuses to recognize the NLL, which was drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command after the 1950-53 Korean War, and South Korea has rejected the North's demand that it be redrawn farther south.
On Friday, Kim and Panetta said the North should "accept the practical value of and abide by" the NLL.
At the meeting, Panetta said the U.S. remains committed to providing and strengthening "extended deterrence" for South Korea.
The term extended deterrence refers to a pledge by a nuclear power to protect an ally with no atomic weapons. According to Friday's statement, the U.S. will use "the full range of capabilities, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella, conventional strike and missile defense capabilities."
A defense ministry official, on the condition of anonymity, said this year's SCM helped reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea, despite looming budget cuts.
"The talks will serve as an opportunity to deepen the already close security cooperation between the two," the official said.
"That will help further improve the overall alliance between South Korea and the U.S."