North Korea's missile and weapons developments are increasingly threatening security in the area, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said after talks with Suh Wook, South Korea's defense minister. The two men also discussed issues beyond the Korean peninsula.
The statement includes language similar to that used by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in May during a meeting with American President Joe Biden. It is a sensitive issue for South Korea. The government has tried to balance its economic relationship with China with U.S. pressure on allies to resist Beijing's growing power.
The statement came the same day that South Korea's national security adviser traveled to China to meet its top diplomat.
Austin and top U.S. military commanders were in Seoul for the first military talks with South Korean officials since Biden took office in January. Moon will leave office in May.
North Korea has continued to reject U.S. diplomacy efforts since Biden took over from Donald Trump. During his one term as president, Trump held three meetings with leader Kim Jong Un.
The United States is calling on the North to talk, Austin told reporters. He said diplomacy supported by a dependable deterrent is the best path to follow with North Korea.
This week the U.S. military released a world security report that calls for additional cooperation among allies to deter threats from North Korea. The report noted an earlier decision to permanently base an attack helicopter team and artillery division headquarters in South Korea.
The United States stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea. The American military presence began in the 1950s during the Korean War. The conflict ended with a ceasefire but a peace treaty was never reached.
Moon and Austin met Thursday night. Moon asked for U.S. support of his push for an "end of war declaration" aimed at reducing tensions with North Korea, said a spokesman for the president.
Austin answered with praise for Moon's efforts to improve relations with North Korea, the spokesperson reported in a statement.
A changing security environment led the United States and South Korea to agree to update guidance about how they plan for a possible conflict with North Korea.
Moon told reporters, "The Strategic Planning Guidance from 2010 still remains effective...." But, he said a new war plan is needed to deal with new threats from North Korea, defense reform and a combined command structure.
U.S. and South Korean officials said the updates to the war plans are not a preparation for war.
Currently, the United States would command allied troops in the event of war, but South Korea has been seeking to gain "operational control" (OPCON). Suh said the two sides made progress on meeting conditions for reaching that goal.
I'm Gregory Stachel.