In South Korea, Mattis reaffirms joint stance against North Korea threat
SEOUL, South Korea — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder” with South Korea on Thursday as he began his first trip abroad in his new role with the threat from North Korea and a need to reassure jittery allies at the top of his agenda.
The two-day visit comes amid speculation that the North is planning to test-fire another missile after a New Year’s declaration by Kim Jong Un that the country is in the “final stages” of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile. President Donald Trump tweeted “It won’t happen!” in response.
Officials in Seoul welcomed the presence of the retired Marine general as a sign that the Trump administration will maintain its commitment to defending their half of the divided peninsula.
The new president has said very little about the Koreas since taking office — focusing instead on the threat from Islamic extremism — although he called the leaders of Japan and South Korea over the weekend.
There are some 28,500 U.S. servicemembers stationed in South Korea and 50,000 in Japan.
South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn’s office quoted Mattis as saying that Trump had asked him to “make a very clear statement” that the administration is making the alliance a strong priority.
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