By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (Yonhap) -- The United States on Wednesday announced the launch of a new trilateral security partnership in the Indo-Pacific with Australia and Britain that seeks to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
A senior U.S. administration official said the new partnership, AUUKUS, will only provide Australia with nuclear-propulsion capabilities and not nuclear weapons.
"Our first initiative as part of AUUKUS is the three countries will announce later today a shared ambition to support Australia's desire to acquire nuclear-powered submarines," the official said in a telephonic press conference, while speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official noted the three countries will jointly study ways to deliver such capabilities to Australia over the next 18 months, adding the last time the U.S. had shared such technology with a foreign country was with Britain in 1958.
"I do want to underscore that the Biden administration remains deeply committed to American leadership in nonproliferation. This is nuclear propulsion. Australia has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons," he said.
Still, the official noted a nuclear-powered submarine was an "extremely sensitive" technology that the U.S. will not share with other countries.
"This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects. I do not anticipate that this will be undertaken in other circumstances going forward," said the official. "We do this as a one-off. We do believe that this is complementary to other forms of security and political engagement in the region."
South Korea is currently seeking to acquire or develop a nuclear-powered submarine.
A nuclear accord between Seoul and Washington prohibits South Korea from using U.S. technology to develop nuclear capabilities, including a nuclear-powered submarine.
The official said the new partnership would be part of ongoing U.S. efforts to maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific that he said also included bilateral engagements with other U.S. allies such as South Korea.
"Again, you've seen very strong statements and engagements with Japan and South Korea and the Philippines to date ... This is all about developing integrated, effective web of engagement, about sustaining the operating system of Asia. The rules based order has been so good for all of us over these many years and we hope into the future," said the official.
The new trilateral initiative comes amid a growing competition with China, with the U.S. frequently accusing China of undermining the rules-based order in the East and South China Seas.
The U.S. official argued the new trilateral partnership is not aimed at any one country.
"I do want to just underscore very clearly. This partnership is not aimed or about any one country. (It) is about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules based order and promoting peace and stability in the Indo Pacific," he said.
"This is about a larger effort to sustain the fabric of engagement and deterrence in the Indo Pacific. We have a history of innovation, upgrading capabilities, I would urge you to look in this context," he added.