SEOUL - The United States and South Korea signed a new pact to deter North Korea's potential use of nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction amid growing threats from Pyongyang, their defence chiefs said on Wednesday.
The defence ministers also agreed to review the timing of the transfer of war-time command control of their combined forces on the Korean peninsula from the US military to South Korea, a joint statement issued after their meeting said.
The transfer is scheduled to take place in December 2015, but there have been calls in South Korea for it to be postponed while North Korea continues to push ahead with its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programmes.
"Of particular concern are North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, its proliferation activities, and its chemical weapons," US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told a joint news conference with South Korea's Kim Kwan-jin.
"Given these concerns, as Minister Kim noted, today we signed a bilateral strategy for tailored deterrence against the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction," he said.
The ministers did not give any immediate indication of what the "tailored deterrence" strategy might entail despite questions from the media. Hagel said it was prompted by a recent push by Pyongyang to build and deploy nuclear weapons.
"It has increased its capabilities, its missile capabilities, its three nuclear tests. So that is constantly forcing a review of our strategies."
South Korean media reported the new strategy involved the use of all available military assets to launch a pre-emptive strike against the North if there is a clear indication of an imminent nuclear attack by Pyongyang.
A senior US defence official denied the pact addressed the possibility of such a strike and said it provided a framework for discussions on the use of various defence capabilities to generate an effective deterrent against the North.