World Bulletin / News Desk
Mattis arrived for a two-day visit to the U.S.’s long-standing ally at 12.30 p.m. local time (0330GMT) on his first foreign trip since taking office amid growing threats from North Korea.
After meeting the commander of U.S. forces on the peninsula, Mattis met acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin to reassure them of the U.S.’s continued commitment to South Korea.
“I talked to President Trump and he wanted to make a very clear statement about the priority that we place on the alliance between our two nations,” Mattis was quoted as telling Hwang by the Yonhap news agency.
The relationship had been thrown in doubt by Trump’s remarks about U.S. allies paying more for the protection provided by the U.S.
Mattis, a former U.S. Marine Corps general with more than 40 years’ service, told Kwan the missile threat from North Korea was a “top priority” for the Trump administration, Yonhap reported, citing military officials. Pyongyang has threatened that it is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
On Friday, Mattis is due to meet Defense Minister Han Min-koo and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se before travelling to Japan.
The meeting with Han is expected to be dominated by the question of when the allies will deploy THAAD anti-missile batteries in South Korea.
Seoul and Washington agreed in July last year to deploy the THAAD system this year to deter North Korean nuclear and missile threats. However, political instability in the South and the objections of China have raised doubts.