Mattis Consults with South Korean Allies After China Visit

After meetings in Beijing with Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis traveled to South Korea’s capital of Seoul to brief leaders there.

Mattis met with Chinese leaders June 27 and yesterday and “reaffirmed the importance of strategic transparency in the U.S.-China defense relationship,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana W. White said. “The leaders discussed a broad range of defense issues and reaffirmed the importance of the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.”

His stop in Seoul to meet with Defense Minister Song Young-moo emphasizes the importance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance. The secretary stressed that the United States and South Korea share democratic values and common security interests. “The U.S. commitment to the Republic of Korea remains ironclad, and the U.S. will continue to use the full range of diplomatic and military capabilities to uphold these commitments,” he said.

U.S. Troop Presence

The United States will maintain current U.S. force levels on the Korean Peninsula of about 28,500 service members, the secretary said. As outlined in President Donald J. Trump’s whole-of-government Indo-Pacific strategy, he noted, the U.S. maintains an enduring commitment to a peaceful, secure, prosperous, free and open Indo-Pacific.

The trip is Mattis’ seventh to the region since becoming secretary. During his last trip to the region in early June, he called on all nations in the region “to strive toward a shared destiny, one steeped in common values and respect for international law,” he said.

The National Defense Strategy calls for strengthening existing alliances while seeking to build new ones.

“I welcome the opportunity to reinforce concrete relationships with stalwart allies while opening avenues for substantive dialogue with others in the region, as I did in China these last few days,” Mattis said.

Close Consultation

He promised the United States would continue its close consultation with South Korean leaders and other partners in the region as “our diplomats continue their work to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

The secretary addressed the decision to suspend Exercise Freedom Guardian. He said this gives diplomats increased opportunity to negotiate, increasing prospects for a peaceful solution on the peninsula. “At the same time, the U.S. and [South Korean] forces remain united, vigilant and ready to defend against any challenge,” he said.

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty at the end of the Korean War. The vehicle for discussions between the countries is the joint security consultative meeting.

It is the Americans’ turn to host the meeting, and Mattis said he looks forward to the discussions in Washington in October.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)