WASHINGTON -- The United States will continue to enhance its joint defense readiness with South Korea and Japan by conducting additional joint military exercises against growing North Korean threats, a White House official said Wednesday.
John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, also highlighted that the US has devoted additional intelligence gathering and military capabilities to the region to that end.
"You have seen in just recent weeks some bilateral exercises between the United States and Japan, specifically in response to the increased tensions by the regime in Pyongyang," the NSC official said in a virtual press briefing.
"And you are going to see us continue to look for ways to not only improve our bilateral military cooperation, which is already quite extraordinary, but our trilateral military cooperation with Japan, South Korea and the United States together," he added.
Pyongyang periodically criticizes the US' joint military exercises in the region, accusing them of being aimed at invading the North.
The joint military drills held late last year, however, came on the heels of an unprecedented number of North Korean ballistic missile launches that included eight intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
North Korea fired some 70 ballistic missiles in 2022 alone, setting a new annual record that far exceeded the previous record of 25.
Kirby reiterated the US' commitment to engage in diplomacy with Pyongyang.
"The offer still stands for us to be willing to sit down with North Koreans without precondition to find a diplomatic path forward to a denuclearization of the DPRK," said the NSC official, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"To date, they have not taken us up on that, of course. Quite the contrary there. They seem to be moving in the opposite direction, which is why we have got to make sure that we have got the kind of capabilities, the kind of readiness in place to protect our national security interests and we are going to do that," he added.
His remark also comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for an "exponential" growth of his country's nuclear warheads.
Kirby declined to comment when asked what an "exponential growth" of North Korea's nuclear weapons program could mean, but said the US will continue to closely monitor North Korea.
"We have been watching closely and will continue to watch closely the Kim regime's pursuit of additional advanced military capabilities and certainly their nuclear ambitions in that regard, and continue to make sure that we are properly postured to defend both our chief alliances in that part of the world with Japan and South Korea, but also our greater national security interest in the region and beyond," he said.
"It's why we have done these additional exercises I was talking about before. It's why we have devoted our military capabilities to that part of the world, and we are just going to continue to focus on that," added Kirby. (Yonhap)