Defense Chief Delivers 'Unexpected Present' to South Korea

Gen. James Mattis reassures country in first foreign trip
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2017 8:59 AM CST
Defense Chief Tries to Quash Friction Over THAAD
A mock North Korean Scud-B missile, center left, and South Korean missiles are displayed at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Gen. James Mattis is in South Korea, and the new defense secretary has delivered what one analyst calls an "unexpected present" from the Trump administration: clarity on US policy. Mattis arrived in the country Thursday on his first foreign trip in his new role; he'll also visit Japan. He restated the firm US defense commitment to South Korea and addressed controversy over the South's planned deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, saying North Korea is the only country that has anything to fear from THAAD, CNN reports. China has expressed concern about the US-developed system. Mattis said the system wouldn't be needed at all if it wasn't for the North's provocative behavior.

Since taking office, Trump has been issuing orders that upend "longstanding American policy lines," making Mattis' trip and reaffirmation of US commitment to allies an "unexpected present," Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, tells the New York Times. And with more Pyongyang missile launches expected soon, the reassurance will be especially welcome in the South. The North has "a wonderful tradition of greeting every new US president with a bit of fireworks, sometimes a nuclear test, sometimes ICBM launch and they're not going to break this tradition," Korean studies professor Andrei Lankov at Seoul's Kookmin University tells CNN. For further reading, check out the Diplomat's deep dive on what THAAD is and why it's making Beijing so upset. (More South Korea stories.)

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