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U.S. has ‘ironclad alliance’ with South Korea, Mattis says

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Defense Secretary James Mattis said the United States has an “ironclad alliance” with South Korea, and while Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program “is still in the diplomats’ hands,” military options for the defense of South Korea exist and “are always ready.”

Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Hawaii today met with his South Korean counterpart, Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo, and reaffirmed the strength of their alliance in the face of threats from North Korea.

“Here today, you and I meet as members of an alliance — an ironclad and irreplaceable alliance,” Mattis told journalists as he headed into his meeting with Song.

“The Kim regime is a threat to the entire world,” he said referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “It’s an international problem that requires an international solution. Our response to this threat remains diplomacy-led, backed up with military options available to ensure that our diplomats are understood to be speaking from a position of strength.”

“Here in beautiful Hawaii, we are reminded that America is an enduring Pacific power,” Mattis said. “Five of our states plus territories all touch on this shared ocean.”

From the day Korean War fighting ended in 1953, military forces from the North and South have been arrayed along the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas.

North Korea has violated that zone “numerous times” and taken aggressive action over the years at sea and against civilian airliners, Mattis said to reporters when en route to Hawaii.

“So those military options remain, since 1953, in place,” Mattis said. “They remain there today. We could fight tonight, shoulder to shoulder with the (South Koreans) if they’re attacked.”

North Korea’s reopened dialogue with South Korea and the North’s upcoming participation in the winter Olympics are expected to be topics of conversation in the Mattis-Song meeting.

North Korea has been attempting to use the topic of reunification as a wedge between the United States and South Korea.

Mattis called the meeting with the South Korean defense minister “normal, ongoing consultation.”

The meeting was not set up “directly because of the Olympics,” he said.

“When I saw I was going to be out here, (Song) said ‘Do you want to see me?’ I said, ‘Let’s cut the travel time for both of us and meet in Hawaii,’ “ Mattis said. “So that’s why it’s going on. But it’s also frequent (contact), whether by telephone or in person.”

Mattis said the pair would “of course” discuss the policy of seeking a nuclear-free North Korea as sought by the United States, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United Nations Security Council.

“So, we’ll continue to hold the line and provide credible military options so the diplomats can speak from a position of strength and persuasion,” Mattis said.

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