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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se agreed to “further strengthen” the U.S. – South Korea alliance to respond to the North Korean nuclear issue, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced on Tuesday.
Tillerson and Yun spoke over the telephone for the first time since Tillerson’s appointment at 0750 KST (1050 GMT) on Tuesday, sharing views on North Korean issues, including its nuclear program and ways to bolster the alliance, MOFA said.
“Both ministers agreed to further strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea (ROK) to the strongest alliance to effectively respond to challenges like North Korea and its nuclear issues,” said a written MOFA statement about the call.
During the 25-minute telephone conversation, Tillerson told Yun that the alliance is the “key to peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region” and underscored that Washington’s commitment to defending the South – including through “extended deterrence” – will be “steadfast”.
Yun called for the U.S. to develop an “around-the-clock consultation system” against the North’s threats.
“The two governments should ‘always be prepared’ for the possibility of North Korea’s provocations considering the current situation’s severity and urgency,” he said.
Yun also added that the U.S. and South should “thoroughly” impose “unprecedented, powerful” sanctions and pressure against the North, with the goal of “not accepting (its) nuclear weapons”.
Tillerson stressed the necessity of close cooperation between the U.S. and the South, in order to respond.
“[Tillerson] told [Yun] that the U.S. and the South should develop a ‘common approach’ to the North Korean nuclear issue, which is an ‘immediate threat,’” MOFA quoted Tillerson as saying.
MOFA also said the U.S. and South Korean ministers agreed to hold a one-on-one meeting “as soon as possible,” sometime in February, to discuss “specific strategies and action plans in a bid to strengthen the U.S. – South alliance”.
Though MOFA didn’t provide details on the date, Yun is currently scheduled to participate in a meeting of G20 foreign ministers between February 16-17 in Bonn, Germany, as well as the Munich Security Conference (MSC) held from February 17-19.
THAAD AND CHINA
Both also agreed to deploy the U.S. advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery “as scheduled,” and reiterated that the deployment will not infringe upon the interests of other nations and is a defense measure only against the North’s nuclear threats– a key Chinese concern.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Yun last Friday made the same point in bilateral talks during Mattis’s visit to Seoul.
Mattis and South Korea’s Minister of National Defense Han Min-koo also agreed to deploy the THAAD battery “within this year” during their defense minister’s meeting on Friday.
During Tuesday’s talks by telephone, Tillerson and Yun shared the view that China’s role is “crucial” in bringing North Korea to the path of denuclearization and vowed to continue efforts into driving Beijing towards thoroughly implementing UN Security Council resolutions.
On January 11, Tillerson on Wednesday denounced China’s “empty promises” on North Korea in his confirmation hearing. And Tillerson said the U.S. would consider actions to “compel” China to comply with the United Nations sanctions in case of violations, referring likely to secondary sanctions.
Ahead of Mattis’s visit to ROK from February 2 to 3, U.S. President Donald Trump held talks by telephone with South Korea’s Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on January 30.
Featured Image: South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)