Did Trump Undermine Mattis's Trip Before It Started?

Donat Sorokin  TASS
Donat Sorokin TASS

03 February, 2017

Mattis is the first member of President Donald Trump's Cabinet to make an overseas visit.

Mattis said the system wouldn't be needed at all if it wasn't for the North's provocative behavior.

Mattis encountered a supportive banner as his motorcade approached his hotel on Namsan, a mountain landmark in Seoul adjacent to the main American military presence here.

China says the deployment upsets the regional balance of forces at a time Beijing is also flexing its muscles in the South China Sea.

The South's Presidential Office said Mattis and Kim agreed on the importance of maintaining and strengthening the ROK-U.S. alliance under the new administration and agreed to "strongly respond" to North Korean provocations, as well as to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. "He also underscored that the United States remains steadfast in its commitment to defend the ROK and that the USA extended deterrence commitment remains ironclad", Ross said in a statement.

On Friday, Mr Mattis will travel to Japan, for talks with Defence Minister Tomomi Inada.

"They have a wonderful tradition of greeting every new U.S. President with a bit of fireworks, sometimes a nuclear test, sometimes ICBM launch and they're not going to break this tradition", said Andrei Lankov, a Korean studies professor at Seoul's Kookmin University, CNN reported.

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Mr Mattis told reporters shortly before landing in South Korea: "Thaad is for defence of our ally's people, of our troops who are committed to their defence".

Mattis, so far, has tried to deliver. "South alliance", the Prime Minister's Office quoted Mattis as saying.

Speaking to reporters before his arrival, Mattis said he would use the talks in Seoul, and those later in the week in Tokyo, to solicit the views of South Korean and Japanese leaders about how best to mitigate the threat from Pyongyang.

Mattis said Washington's security commitment to Seoul included the deployment of THAAD and United States "extended deterrence", reported Yonhap news agency, quoting a statement from South Korea's presidential office.

After meeting Brooks, the US Secretary will attend a dinner hosted by the South Korean Minister of Defence, Han Min-Koo, at a hotel in Seoul. He met with acting President Hawng Kyo-ahn Wednesday, who took over as the South Korean leader after President Park Geun-hye was pushed from power for her role in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal. But defense cost-sharing and controversial free trade agreements between the US and South Korea - two key themes of President Donald Trump's campaign - did not come up in conversation.

The Blue House said the two had "in-depth discussions on security issues, including North Korean issues, including its nuclear program [and the] U.S. - South Korean alliance". But Trump's withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a bilateral free trade deal that was also opposed by his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, did away with a key pillar of Obama's rebalance to Asia.

Mattis made clear ahead of his trip that he would not be announcing changes to USA policy - like demanding that America's key Asian allies start paying more.

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