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(LEAD) S. Korean, U.S. defense chiefs reaffirm alliance in phone talks

Defense 13:48 January 24, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS photo, U.S. statement in paras 5-7)

SEOUL, Jan. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Defense Minister Suh Wook held telephone talks Sunday with newly confirmed U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, where the two reaffirmed the importance of their alliance and agreed to closely cooperate on developing it, Seoul's defense ministry said.

During the dialogue, which took place upon Washington's request, the two defense chiefs agreed that the Seoul-Washington alliance is more important than ever and promised to cooperate on improving the relationship, as well as openly communicate on relevant issues.

Suh congratulated Austin on his confirmation and mentioned how he is the right person to take on the duties of a U.S. defense secretary, while Austin mentioned how the Seoul-Washington alliance is a "linchpin" for the peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

The defense chiefs agreed to meet in person in the near future to hold more profound talks on pending issues, the ministry said.

In a release carried on its website, the U.S. Department of Defense said the two defense chiefs reaffirmed the "ironclad U.S.-ROK Alliance and emphasize the importance of close cooperation between the two countries."

It mentioned how Austin "underscored the U.S. commitment to defend the ROK through both the U.S.-ROK combined defense posture and the U.S. extended deterrent."

It added that both sides "noted the need to maintain the readiness of Alliance combined forces, affirmed the importance of maintaining the rules-based international order, and agreed to enhance cooperation on shared threats."

Austin, a retired U.S. Army general, became the first African-American secretary of defense after winning Senate confirmation Friday. The Senate voted 93-2 to approve Austin, two days after Joe Biden was sworn in as president.

The new U.S. defense chief served in various top posts of the military, including as vice chief of staff of the Army but is said to have had no direct experience with Asia.

Still, he vowed to work closely with U.S. allies, including those in Asia.

The captured image from the website of the Senate Armed Services Committee shows Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaking in his senate confirmation hearing held in Washington on Jan. 19, 2021. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This Oct. 8, 2020, file photo, provided by the Ministry of Defense, shows South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook holding phone talks with then U.S. defense chief Mark Esper at his office in Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

mlee@yna.co.kr
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