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US-South Korea Alliance ‘More Important Than Ever’ Amid North Korea, China Threat: Austin

US Secretary of Defense expressed hope that the US-South Korean alliance has “never been more important” amid “unprecedented challenges” posed by North Korea and China, the Yonhap news agency reported.

Lloyd Austin made the remarks during his first personal meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook in Seoul. He also qualified the bilateral partnership as a “linchpin” for Northeast Asia’s peace and security.

“Our commitment to the U.S.-ROK alliance, which has been steadfast for 70 years, remains ironclad,” Austin said, as quoted by Yonhap. This is the first visit of a cabinet-level US official of President Joe Biden’s administration to South Korea.

Denuclearization

Earlier South Korea’s foreign minister said that Seoul is always aiming toward denuclearization and dialogue with North Korea.

“Out government’s stance remains unchanged concerning the matter of resuming the dialogue between the South and the North, as well as the North and the US, as soon as possible; make headway in the effort toward complete denuclearization and establishing a lasting peace framework,” ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said at a briefing in Seoul.

With that in mind, the South Korean government will continue to discuss the peace process in the Korean Peninsula with the United States, including during the upcoming talks between US State Secretary Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their South Korean counterparts.

South Korea and the US are currently conducting a joint military exercise that will end on Thursday. Despite it being downgraded due to the coronavirus pandemic, the drill still provoked an outcry from Pyongyang.

Tensions Between South & North Korea

Earlier, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wishes to see a de-escalation of rhetorical tensions between the United States and North Korea and re-engagement of the key players on the matter to find a diplomatic solution forward, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, earlier in the day, warned US President Joe Biden to “refrain from causing a stink” on the Korean Peninsula, referring to the joint US and South Korean military drills in the region.

“The Secretary General’s position on [the] situation [on the] Korean peninsula remains the same: he wants dialogue, he wants to see a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, he wants to see tensions lowered, whether those tensions are military or rhetorical tensions. We would want to see re-engagement of the major players… to find a diplomatic solution forward,” Dujarric said.

Kim Yo Jong, an influential member of the North Korean Workers’ Party, said her country was mulling tearing up a 2018 military pact with the South in response to the exercise, which Seoul says does not involve field training. The drills are expected to run through Thursday.

Later, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the US had reached out to North Korea but received no response amid policy review. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification reported that Seoul and Washington had been in contact over the issue and held regular consultations.

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