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Pentagon chief arrives South Korea on first foreign visit

New U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis (R) is greeted by Marine General Joseph Dunford

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New U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis arrived in South Korea on Thursday for talks on the security situation in East Asia in a visit meant to reassure Seoul of Washington’s commitment to its key ally.

The commander of the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters in Yongsan briefed Mattis on North Korea’s recent threats of test-firing an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the US, the Yonhap news agency reported.

Mattis headed to Yongsan after landing at an air base south of Seoul at 12:30 p.m. (0330 GMT), Yonhap said.

He was expected to meet with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn, who is also acting president, before a dinner in Seoul arranged by South Korean Defence Minister Han Min Koo, Yonhap reported.

Mattis will travel to Tokyo on Friday, where he’s set for talks with Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada.

Asian allies were unnerved by then-candidate Donald Trump’s comments on the campaign trail questioning US alliances and his move to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

The U.S. has tens of thousands of troops in both South Korea and Japan and faces challenges in the region, including the North Korean regime and China’s actions in the South China Sea.

Mattis, a retired general, was the first of Donald Trump’s cabinet members to win Senate confirmation, within hours of the new president being sworn into office on Jan. 20.

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