(ATTN: UPDATES headline, lead with opening of talks)
By Song Sang-ho and Chae Yun-hwan
SEOUL, Jan. 31 (Yonhap) -- The defense chiefs of South Korea and the United States held talks in Seoul on Tuesday to discuss deterrence against evolving North Korean nuclear and missile threats and other security issues, officials here said.
The talks between Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and his U.S. counterpart, Lloyd Austin, came as the allies are striving to sharpen deterrence through reinforced combined military exercises and their trilateral cooperation with Japan, in the wake of North Korea's missile provocations.
High on the agenda is the allies' effort to strengthen the credibility of America's "extended deterrence" commitment to using a full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its ally, according to the officials.
The two sides could touch on the discussion-based table-top exercise that the allies plan to hold in the U.S. next month under the scenario of the North's potential use of nuclear weapons, according to observers.
The planned exercise has drawn keen attention amid the allies' push for a more effective, realistic approach to address threats from the North's pursuit of tactical nuclear arms under an aggressive nuclear policy.
The issue of providing assistance to Ukraine in the war with Russia is likely to figure prominently during the talks. Washington announced a plan last week to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in a steady show of support for the East European nation.
Austin could also use the meeting with Lee to explain the outcome of the summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House earlier this month.
Lee and Austin had their last bilateral in-person talks at the annual Security Consultative Meeting at the Pentagon last November.
The Pentagon chief arrived here on Monday for a three-day visit on a regional swing that will also take him to the Philippines.