US security adviser John Bolton meets South Korean officials, seeks stronger ties

US national security adviser John Bolton met with South Korean officials to discuss major bilateral issues amid South Korea's trade spat with Japan, stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, and a regional air space dispute.
US national security adviser John Bolton met with South Korean officials to discuss major bilateral issues amid South Korea's trade spat with Japan, stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, and a regional air space dispute. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - US national security adviser John Bolton met South Korean officials on Wednesday (July 24) to discuss major bilateral issues amid South Korea's trade spat with Japan, stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, and a regional air space dispute on Tuesday.

Mr Bolton met South Korea's chief of National Security Office Chung Eui-yong, Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Seoul to discuss issues, including denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and ways to strengthen the South Korea-US alliance.

"I think the main objective we have, and I know that you have, is to emerge with a stronger ROK-US alliance that really has kept the peace in this part of the world for a long time," Mr Bolton said ahead of his meeting with Ms Kang, using the initials for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

In their public remarks, Mr Bolton and Ms Kang mentioned only broad goals on issues like North Korea, but hinted at other areas as well.

Ms Kang thanked Mr Bolton for US leadership beyond the region,"especially in the Strait of Hormuz" in the Middle East.

"I think your leadership trying to keep things stable in that region has been very much appreciated, and we’re fully supportive of that as well," she said.

The United States has sought to win its allies’ support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes and there is speculation Mr Bolton may officially ask for South Korean military contributions.

Earlier this week South Korean officials said they were considering the issue.

"There are many challenges out there, some in this part of the world, some in other parts of the world, but I’m confident that the ROK and US will work very closely together to resolve them," Mr Bolton said.

The South Koreans are expected to bring up a trade dispute with US ally Japan, which has restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea.

Seoul has said the curbs could hurt global tech companies, including Apple, which use South Korean semiconductors and displays and has asked the US to help resolve the dispute.

Japan, which has denied that a dispute over compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese occupiers during World War II is behind the export curbs, is now considering removing South Korea from a Japanese "white list" of countries with minimum trade restrictions, which would impose tougher conditions.

On Tuesday, South Korean officials said their warplanes had fired hundreds of warning shots near a Russian aircraft that was part of what Moscow said was its first long-range joint air patrol in the Asia-Pacific region with China, sparking a round of diplomatic protests.

The development could complicate relations and raise tension in a region that has for years been overshadowed by hostility between the US and North Korea.

Denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the US have stalled after a second summit between US President Donald Trump and the North's leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February broke down.

Mr Bolton met South Korean opposition Liberty Korea Party's floor leader, Ms Na Kyung-won, early on Wednesday at her request, Ms Na said.

Ms Na said she told Mr Bolton of "the importance of the South Korea-US alliance" in light of the airspace incident by Russian military aircraft, and said Japan's export curbs are"not helpful" to the trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the US and Japan. She did not mention Mr Bolton's reply.