Trump says '100 per cent' with Seoul on North Korea

Trump says '100 per cent' with Seoul on North Korea
In his first, 30-minute phone conversation with acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Trump said the bilateral relationship will be “better than ever before,” expressing hopes for a face-to-face meeting in the near future, the Prime Minister’s Office said.
PHOTO: AFP

The US President reiterates commitment to defend South Korea.

US President Donald Trump on Monday reaffirmed the country's commitment to its ties with South Korea, saying he will be "100 per cent" with Seoul in underpinning the alliance and resolving the North Korean nuclear issue.

In his first, 30-minute phone conversation with acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Trump said the bilateral relationship will be "better than ever before," expressing hopes for a face-to-face meeting in the near future, the Prime Minister's Office said.

"President Trump said the US will be 100 per cent with South Korea on North Korea, reaffirming the firm security commitment and calling for continued close consultations on the strategy to respond to the nuclear and missile issues," the office said in a statement.

Washington also said the two leaders agreed to take steps to strengthen joint defence capabilities, with James Mattis due to visit here Wednesday on his first overseas trip as the new US secretary of defence.

"President Trump reiterated our ironclad commitment to defend the ROK (South Korea), including through the provision of extended deterrence, using the full range of military capabilities," the White House said in a separate statement.

Trump, who was sworn in on Jan. 20, repeatedly voiced on the campaign trail that Seoul, Tokyo and other allies should pay more defence costs, while criticising the South Korea-US free trade deal as a "job killer."

Some 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea.

Though the issues were not brought up during the phone call, Hwang stressed the significance of the 60-plus-year relations as a "comprehensive strategic alliance" that not only consists of military and security components, but has progressed to encompass economic and global partnerships.

Read also: Trump aware of "urgency" of North Korea nuclear threat : South Korea

The acting president also underscored the need for a solid, united response to Pyongyang's additional provocations in order to change its calculations, his office said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year's speech that the country is in the "final stage" of preparations for an intercontinental ballistic missile test.

As the North's threats escalate, the allies decided last year to deploy the US' Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system here despite stern resistance from China, which believes the equipment targets it.

But the plan's fate hangs in the balance, with some opposition contenders pledging to upend it if they win the expected presidential election this year.

Seoul's National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin and Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn agreed to implement the deployment as planned during a meeting early this month in Washington.

Hwang also raised the need for an early stationing at a news conference last week.

Apparently mindful of the uproar, however, Hwang simply "explained the government's position and related situation" on the THAAD issue, the PMO said, adding Trump promised further discussions.

"Despite some worries, the phone call was substantive and carried out in a poised and serious manner," a Seoul official said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

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