SEOUL -- The Trump administration considers the North Korean nuclear threat a top-priority security issue, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday during his first trip abroad since taking office.
Mattis met with South Korea's Prime Minister and acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and national security director Kim Kwan-jin, and is speaking with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo on Friday. He will fly to Tokyo for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later that day, and with Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Saturday, in a show of close relations among the three countries.
The U.S. defense chief and South Korean officials agreed to respond firmly to North Korean provocations, such as test-launching intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to the South Korean government. They also agreed to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system without delay. Mattis expressed his support for Seoul's pressure- and sanctions-based approach to Pyongyang.
Mattis stressed that U.S. President Donald Trump values his alliance with Seoul and wants to strengthen it. He said the U.S. will continue to protect South Korea under its nuclear umbrella and through extended deterrence. "We intend to be shoulder to shoulder with you as we face this together," he said.
In addition to addressing the nuclear threat, the two sides agreed to work together toward the eventual peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
The South Korean government welcomed Mattis for choosing the country as his first destination, calling the visit "very timely" given North Korea's nuclear and missile development.