US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter yesterday arrived in South Korea for a visit dominated by the issue of North Korea, which launched two missiles as the Pentagon chief flew to the region.
Carter arrived from Tokyo on the second leg of a trip to the two key US military allies in Asia.
As the Pentagon chief flew to Japan on Tuesday, North Korea fired two surface-to-air missiles into the sea off its west coast — a common, attention-grabbing tactic during high-profile visits to the region.
Carter said the test-firing was a reminder of “how dangerous things are” on the Korean Peninsula and how important it was to strengthen the US-South Korea alliance in the face of the threat from North Korea.
“If it was a welcome message for me, it was flattering,” Carter said yesterday to reporters on the plane he flew to the region on. “I’ve been in the job for six weeks, and that’s two missiles. That’s pretty good.”
Although explicitly banned from doing so by UN resolutions, North Korea repeatedly carries out ballistic missile tests — often as a means of voicing its displeasure.
It fired a series of short-range missiles last month into the Sea of Japan (known as the “East Sea” in South Korea and the “East Sea of Korea” in North Korea), and also last week to protest annual US-South Korea military drills that Pyongyang views as rehearsals for an invasion.
One of the joint drills, Key Resolve, concluded last month, but the other, Foal Eagle, is set to continue until April 24.
The annual exercises always trigger a surge in military tensions between North and South Korea, which are technically still at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
Carter was scheduled to hold talks today with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, as well as South Korea’s national security adviser and minister of defense.
He is also scheduled to visit a memorial to the 46 seamen who died in the 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan.
A South Korean-led investigation involving a team of international experts concluded the ship was sunk by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine, but Pyongyang has always denied involvement.
During his trip, Carter is expected to underline Washington’s continued commitment to the military alliance with South Korea, and to discuss the eventual transfer of the Pentagon’s command control of South Korean troops.
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