SEOUL • United States Defence Secretary James Mattis told South Korea yesterday that the two allies would stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" to face the threat from North Korea, in a message of reassurance after US President Donald Trump questioned aspects of the alliance during his election campaign.
The two countries also agreed to push through with plans to deploy a US missile defence system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad), in South Korea later this year.
Mr Mattis' two-day visit came amid concern that the North may be preparing to test a new ballistic missile, in what could be an early challenge for Mr Trump's administration.
Mr Mattis, in his first trip abroad as Pentagon chief, vowed to strengthen ties in talks with South Korean Prime Minister and Acting President Hwang Kyo Ahn.
"Right now we have to address the reality of the threat that your country and my country faces and we intend to be shoulder-to-shoulder with you as we face this together," he said.
Right now we have to address the reality of the threat that your country and my country faces and we intend to be shoulder-to-shoulder with you as we face this together.
US DEFENCE SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS, on working with South Korea against a nuclear threat from Pyongyang.
Mr Hwang, who is serving as acting president after President Park Geun Hye was impeached over a corruption scandal, called for increasing pressure on Pyongyang, including by strengthening sanctions and pressing forward with a strong, united defence.
"South Korea and the United States must try to extract a change in North Korea's strategic calculus by deterring the North's aggression," Mr Hwang said in a statement.
North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and its main ally, the US, conducted more than 20 missile tests last year, as well as two nuclear tests, in defiance of United Nations resolutions and sanctions.
The North appears to have also restarted operation of a reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear facility, which produces plutonium that can be used for its nuclear weapons programme, according to a US think-tank, 38 North.
Both South Korea and the US yesterday recommitted to plans to deploy Thaad, according to Mr Hwang's office.
Mr Mattis told reporters shortly before landing in South Korea: "Thaad is for defence of our ally's people, of our troops who are committed to their defence."
The two countries say the deployment is designed to protect against North Korea's growing nuclear and ballistic capabilities, which have been advancing despite years of efforts by the international community.
China, however, has objected to Thaad, saying it will destabilise the regional security balance. This has led to calls from some South Korean opposition leaders to delay or cancel the deployment.
Mr Mattis, without mentioning China explicitly, said that "no other nation" needed to be concerned about Thaad.
The Defence Secretary, who will hold more talks in Seoul today before heading to Japan, suggested he was going in with an open mind about how to deal with Pyongyang.
Mr Mattis' trip to the region is the first foreign trip by any of Mr Trump's Cabinet members.
US officials have said the trip is meant to reaffirm ties with South Korea and Japan - US allies which host nearly 80,000 US troops - and the importance of the region overall.
In a rally in Seoul yesterday, anti-war activists protested against Mr Mattis' visit and denounced the planned deployment of Thaad.
A separate rally was held by Christians supporting Mr Trump.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE