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Yoon gets Pentagon briefing at top U.S. command center

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President Yoon Suk Yeol with Defense Secreatry Lloyd Austin in front of the Pentagon on Thursday. Yoon is the first Korean president to visit the National Military Command Center. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
President Yoon Suk Yeol with Defense Secreatry Lloyd Austin in front of the Pentagon on Thursday. Yoon is the first Korean president to visit the National Military Command Center. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Thursday visited the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, where he was briefed by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on U.S. military strategy.

Although Yoon is the third Korean president to be invited to the Pentagon, he is the first to visit the NMCC, the U.S. military’s top command and communication center.

The other two Korean presidents that have visited the Pentagon are Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.

At the NMCC briefing, Yoon reportedly said he has deep trust in the NMCC and its strategic monitoring system, including its watchful eye over nuclear activity across the world and ability to swiftly respond to crisis situations.

The visit came a day after Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden announced the “Washington Declaration,” in which both countries agreed to strengthen expanded deterrence against threats from North Korea including “enhanced dialogue and information sharing” on nuclear strategy through the establishment of the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG).

This issue was also raised during a closed-door meeting between Yoon and Austin.

According to presidential office spokesman Lee Do-hoon, Yoon called on the allies to promote the joint planning and execution of contingency plans as well as the integrated operation of conventional and nuclear weapons through the NGC and table-top exercises.

Yoon stressed the importance in setting up a system that would enable Korea and the U.S. to respond decisively and overwhelmingly to attacks, including the use of U.S. nuclear weapons to respond to a North Korean nuclear attack.

Yoon made a similar pitch during the welcoming ceremony at the Pentagon.

“The Korean government — based on our robust combined defense posture — will resolutely and affirmatively respond to North Korean threats,” Yoon said.

Yoon warned North Korea that it will gain nothing if it decides to attack.

“I urge North Korea once again to make the right decision towards denuclearization for a sustainable and genuine peace, and join in prosperity on the Korean Peninsula,” Yoon said.

Austin said that as promised, the U.S. is fully committed to defending its ally.

“So, I want to underscore, Mr. President, what I said in January, that the U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK is ironclad,” Austin said. “And so is our extended deterrence commitment to your country, which includes a full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including conventional, nuclear and missile defense capabilities.”

Attendees at the meeting included U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, U.S. Ambassador to Korea Philip Goldberg, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl and Commander of the Combined Forces Commission and the United States Forces Korea General Paul LaCamera.

Korean officials in attendance included Foreign Affairs Minister Park Jin, National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong, Korean Ambassador to U.S. Cho Hyun-dong, Vice Defense Minister Shin Beom-chul and National Security Office Deputy Director Kim Tae-hyo.

Yoon also visited the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, a first for a Korean president.

Touring the military R&D center where world-changing technologies such as the internet, microwave oven and GPS were invented, Yoon said he hoped that cooperation on R&D in science and technology with Korea would develop further.

President Yoon has been promoting Korea’s defense exports since taking office last May.

Korea’s defense export contracts amounted to $17 billion in 2022, a 242 percent single-year increase, making the country the eighth-largest weapons exporter in the world.

The government in November released a plan for Korea to seize 5 percent of global defense exports, turning Korean into the world’s fourth-largest defense exporter in the process by 2027.

BY KWON HO, LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]