(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks by officials from Pentagon, Seoul's foreign and defense ministries in last 9 paras; MODIFIES headline; TRIMS)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, Feb. 15 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. diplomat on Tuesday did not rule out the possibility of the economic and security fallout from a conflict between Russia and Ukraine on Asian countries like South Korea.
Speaking during a virtual forum, Mark Lambert, deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, said the world is "so intertwined" when asked if there could be a role for Seoul to play in defusing the standoff over Ukraine.
"It is also important that the countries of Asia make it clear to Europe that countries like Korea are looking at what happens in Europe and how it affects the economic prosperity and security of this region," Lambert said in the forum hosted by the Korea-U.S. Alliance Foundation and Korean Defense Veterans Association.
"The world is so intertwined, and the days of when a country or a leader can go off and think that well, most of the planet won't pay attention to this, I think, are over," he added.
His remarks came amid speculation that the U.S. could try to piece together support from South Korea, Japan and other allies and partners should Russia invade Ukraine to initiate a full-blown war.
Lambert, however, pointed out that it is up to each individual country to determine what to do in response to the European crisis.
"I would leave to the leadership at Blue House ... specific things the Republic of Korea or Japan wishes to do in response to something that we're all hoping doesn't take place," Lambert said, referring to South Korea's presidential office.
The Russia-Ukraine standoff was a "key topic" of weekend discussions in Honolulu among South Korea's Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Antony Blinken and Yoshimasa Hayashi, the diplomat said.
"If you read the trilateral statement, it made very clear that all three foreign ministers called out our shared concern, that Ukraine be respected, that the situation be resolved peacefully, and that Russians stop its provocative behavior," he said.
Meanwhile, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said Monday if Seoul wants to provide support to Kyiv, the Ukrainians would welcome it. But he stressed that each nation has to make "sovereign" decisions for themselves.
"Should they want to assist Ukraine in a tangible way, certainly that -- I'm sure that the Ukrainians would welcome that," Kirby told a press briefing.
He was responding to a question of what military support Washington wants from its ally, South Korea, to help address the Ukraine crisis.
Asked if the Pentagon has asked South Korea to offer any support related to the Ukrainian standoff, Seoul's defense ministry simply said it has been maintaining close coordination with "relevant organizations."
"With France and others, we have continued cooperation by sharing intelligence," Col. Moon Hong-sik, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, told a press briefing.
Seoul's foreign ministry also said it is "closely communicating" with partner countries over the Ukrainian situation.
"We have been paying attention to developments related to the tense situation in Ukraine," Ahn Eun-ju, the ministry's deputy spokesperson, told reporters.
"Ukraine's sovereignty and territory should be preserved, and its independence should be respected. We hope that peace and stability in Ukraine will be restored through dialogue and diplomatic efforts," she added.
An official at the foreign ministry said on background that Seoul is considering expanding humanitarian support for Kyiv, pointing out the country in Eastern Europe has been designated as a core partner for its official development assistance program for 2021-25.
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