(LEAD) Secretary Austin to highlight U.S. commitment to S. Korea during upcoming trip to Seoul: Pentagon
(ATTN: UPDATES with Seoul official’s remarks in paras 7-10; RECASTS dateline)
By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON/SEOUL, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) — U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will underscore the U.S.’ commitment to the security of South Korea during his upcoming trip to Seoul, a Pentagon spokesperson said Thursday.
Sabrina Singh, principal deputy spokesperson for the defense department, also noted the U.S. defense chief looks forward to meeting with his South Korean counterparts, but said she had nothing to offer when asked if Austin will also be meeting with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.
“I think you will see the secretary certainly highlight our commitment to the region,” she told a daily press briefing, adding, “Our commitment to South Korea remains rock solid.”
Austin is scheduled to depart Sunday, according to Singh, on the trip that the defense department earlier said will include a visit to the Philippines.
His trip to Seoul, first of its kind since May 2022, follows an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles fired by North Korea.
Pyongyang launched over 90 missiles in 2022 alone, including 69 ballistic missiles that mark the largest number of ballistic missile fired by North Korea in a single year.
Austin and his South Korean counterpart, Lee Jong-sup, are scheduled to hold talks at Seoul’s defense ministry Tuesday, according to a ministry official. Their talks will be followed by a joint press conference.
“At the meeting, the two sides plan to discuss various pending alliance issues, including policy coordination over North Korea and the strengthening of the credibility of the U.S.’ extended deterrence,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Extended deterrence means America’s commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its ally.
No plan has been finalized yet for any joint visit by Lee and Austin to the Joint Security Area in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, according to the official.
An official from South Korea’s presidential office earlier said the office was making arrangements for a meeting between Yoon and Austin.
“I don’t have anything to read out about a meeting now, but when we are ready to release more details on the trip, we are certainly happy to get them to you,” the spokesperson said when asked about a possible meeting between Yoon and Austin.
When asked about a recent weapons deal between North Korea and Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, Singh insisted the deal demonstrated Russia’s isolation.
“We have seen the Wagner Group try and procure and be successful (in) procuring weapons from North Korea. I think that shows further isolation, that Russia is depleting its stocks pretty quickly,” she said.
“And again, when you are turning to a country like North Korea, Iran, these are countries that are already isolated from an incredible alliance built around support for Ukraine, and so I will just leave at that,” she added.