The United States and South Korea have signed a plan that paves the way for a joint military response to any future North Korean aggression.
Pictured: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw military exercises including tests of small rockets that were capable of bringing down cruise missiles Photo: Reuters
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At a time of heightened tension in the region, the two allies sign the military agreement, which addresses the response to a low-level action such as a limited cross-border excursion.
It guarantees US support for any South Korean retaliation and allows Seoul to request any additional US military force it deems necessary.
"This allows both nations to jointly respond to the North's local provocations, with the South taking the lead and the US in support," defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.
"It will have the effect of preventing the North from daring to provoke us."
The United States has close to 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea with the option to bring in reinforcements from its military bases in Japan.
The chairman of the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jung Seung-Jo, said the accord would allow a "strong retaliation" that would make North Korea "bitterly regret" any provocative move.
The protocol was signed just days before the third anniversary of the 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval corvette, Cheonan, with the loss of 46 lives.
South Korea said it was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, although Pyongyang had always denied any involvement.
Later the same year, North Korea shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong, killing four people.
Angered by UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in February, North Korea has issued a wave of threats over the past month - ranging from a surgical military strike to nuclear war.
The North's leader Kim Jong-un recently made a series of visits to front line military units across the country, during which he threatened to "wipe out" South Korean military units on another border island.
SOURCE: Agence France Presse
Edited by Chris Irvine, telegraph.co.uk