U.S. officials on Friday defended a nuclear submarine visit to South Korea, as heated rhetoric and missile launches from North Korea and the crossing of a U.S. soldier into North Korea earlier this week increase tensions on the Korean peninsula.

In an interview with CNN on Friday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said while U.S. officials “have made it clear to Pyongyang that we’re willing to sit down without preconditions to denuclearize the peninsula,” the deployment of a nuclear submarine and other assets was necessary to “make sure that we have in the region sufficient military capability to protect our South Korean allies, and, quite frankly, the 38,000 U.S. troops and families that are on the Korean peninsula.”

The USS Kentucky, a submarine capable of firing nuclear ballistic missiles, arrived in Busan, South Korea, on Monday for a scheduled port visit. The visit, the first time in decades a nuclear-armed submarine surfaced in South Korea, has prompted sharp rebukes from North Korean officials over the last week.

Even before the sub surfaced in Busan, North Korean officials were warning the U.S. against “foolish” actions, with Workers Party official Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying through state media on Tuesday that North Korea had launched a “military offensive” in response to U.S. aggression.

On Wednesday, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea. In a statement Thursday, North Korea’s defense minister Kang Sun-nam said that the presence of the sub “may fall under the conditions of the use of nuclear weapons.”

South Korean officials have denounced North Korea’s launches as a “major provocation.”

American officials said earlier this week the deployment of the submarine was part of its “extended deterrence” policy.

“This port visit to Busan reflects the United States’ ironclad commitment to the Republic of Korea for our extended deterrence guarantee, and complements the many exercises, training, operations, and the other military cooperation activities conducted by Strategic Forces to ensure they are available and ready to operate around the globe at any time,” U.S. Forces Korea said in a news release Tuesday.

The spat over the submarine comes as the United States, the U.S.-led United Nations Command and the U.S.’s Swedish interlocutors seek information from Pyongyang on Travis King, the American soldier who crossed into North Korea while on a civilian tour of the Demilitarized Zone on Tuesday. In a virtual gaggle Thursday, Kirby told reporters the United States had not received any information on King, either through Sweden or other channels.

U.S. officials maintain they are still working to get information from North Korea about King’s well-being, despite the silence from Pyongyang. Aboard Air Force one Thursday, White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton told reporters the U.S. government has been reaching out through “multiple channels” to speak with North Korean officials.

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