US promises to defend Seoul against Pyongyang
Seoul, March 1 (IANS) US Defense Secretary James Mattis has stressed his country’s commitment to defending Seoul against Pyongyang’s possible aggression, a media report said.
Mattis promised support during a telephone conversation with his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo on Tuesday, Efe news reported.
The call took place on the eve of the joint annual military exercises amid high tension on the Korean peninsula following Pyongyang’s latest missile test and the murder of its leader’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia.
During the conversation, Mattis reaffirmed that any attack by North Korea on the US or its allies would receive an “effective and overwhelming” response, sources from the government told Yonhap news agency.
The new US Secretary of Defense’s message was similar to his previous one given during his trip to South Korea earlier in February, which was his first visit to the country post-appointment.
Han stressed on the importance of the joint Foal Eagle military exercise, which started on Wednesday, in order to “keep peace on the Korean peninsula”.
It includes aerial, terrestrial and naval exercises and would continue till April-end.
The Key Resolve exercises, which involves computer simulation, were also due to start on March 13, the report added.
Han and Mattis also discussed the decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile shield in 2017.
The THAAD would be installed on the South Korean territory with the aim of intercepting missiles launched by North Korea.
The South Korean government on Tuesday formalised the purchase of land for the installation of the THAAD system, a project that sparked strong criticism from China and Russia, who also consider it a threat.
The US would also employ aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, F-35 and the bombers B-1B and B-52 during these drills, Defence Ministry sources told Yonhap.
Pyongyang has repeatedly protested against these joint military exercises, which it considers a trial to invade its territory.
The latest drills come after Seoul claimed that Pyongyang plotted the alleged murder of Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia.
The North Korean regime had also launched a medium-range missile on February 12, the first since Trump took office.