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(LEAD) Mattis vows to respond overwhelmingly if N. Korea uses nuclear weapons

All Headlines 15:03 February 03, 2017

(ATTN: COMBINES stories, ADDS photo, ministers' reaffirmation on THAAD deployment in 10th para)
By Choi Kyong-ae

SEOUL, Feb. 3 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday reiterated Washington's security commitment to Seoul and vowed to overwhelmingly respond to any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea.

"America's commitments to defending our allies and to upholding our extended deterrence guarantees remain ironclad: any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming," Mattis told reporters.

Mattis made the remarks during a five-minute press briefing before he began talks with Defense Minister Han Min-koo, which began at 9:40 a.m., to discuss ways to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region at the defense ministry in Seoul.

Defense Minister Han Min-koo (R) and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at a press briefing before holding bilateral talks in Seoul on Feb. 3, 2017. (Yonhap)

The retired Marine Corps general arrived here on Thursday for a two-day visit for talks with top Seoul officials. On Thursday, he met with South Korea's Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn to underscore the "priority" that the Donald Trump administration places on the South Korea-U.S. alliance.

It is his first overseas trip since he took office less than two weeks ago.

The U.S.' decision to select South Korea as the first stop in its defense secretary's first overseas trip clearly shows the new U.S. government's full commitment to the defense of South Korea and its allies, Han said.

"The defense ministers' talks here in itself indicates trusted bonds between the allies and will definitely serve as a stern warning toward the provocative North," he said.

Mentioning ways to counter saber-rattling by North Korea, Mattis said, "Due to North Korea's threatening rhetoric and destabilizing behavior, we are taking defensive steps like deploying the highly effective THAAD anti-missile unit to South Korea to protect its people and our troops that stand with our ally."

In July 2016, Seoul and Washington announced a plan to deploy a THAAD battery to South Korea by the end of this year to better defend against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.

On Friday, the defense chiefs reaffirmed that the allies will push forward the deployment plan within this year, the defense ministry said. In November, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks said the THAAD system will be deployed within eight to 10 months.

The U.S. has repeatedly stressed that the system is defensive and aimed only at deterring North Korean threats. But China and Russia have strongly opposed the deployment on concerns, saying the move could hurt their strategic security interests.

Russian Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Timonin said Friday, "We will have no choice but to draw a certain conclusion once the THADD installation is complete. We will have to take certain types of countermeasures to guarantee our own security."

In this undated captured image from Yonhap News TV, a THAAD system (R) is shown firing an interceptor and a nuclear facility in North Korea against its national flag. (Yonhap)

In other deterrence efforts, Mattis stressed the need to expand "trilateral venues of cooperation with Japan, where the mutual defense of the three countries is best served through teamwork."

In November, Seoul and Japan formally signed the information sharing accord, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), the first military pact between them since South Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule. Washington welcomed the deal as it expects to bolster security cooperation among the three countries as a counterbalance to China's rise.

"The United States stands by its commitments -- and we stand with our allies. Our alliance is a testament to mutual commitment and respect, and it is a linchpin of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region," Mattis said.

During a meeting with Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se earlier in the day, he fully backed Yun's point that diplomatic pressure and military deterrence policy should continue to be the two main pillars in addressing the North Korean nuclear issue and they should be further strengthened under the Trump government, according to the foreign ministry.

He departed for Japan Friday afternoon after paying his respects to the National Cemetery in southern Seoul.

Tensions are running high on the Korean Peninsula after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year's Day address the country is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Last year alone, Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests and test-fired 24 ballistic missiles to achieve its stated goal of developing an nuclear-tipped long-range missile that could strike parts of the U.S. mainland.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr
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