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Donald Trump vows 'ironclad commitment' to South Korea against North Korea threats

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The agreement came during telephonic talks between US President Donald Trump and South Korea's Acting President Hwang Kyo-Ahn.

During the bitter election campaign, Trump suggested South Korea and Japan should pay more for their defense and raised the possibility of withdrawing USA forces or allowing the Asian nations to develop their own nuclear weapons.

But the White House insisted that the trip "reflects the close friendship between our two countries and demonstrates the importance of the US-ROK alliance".

The U.S. has not faced a more risky security environment in Asia since the end of the Korean War.

The trip will be Mattis' first overseas since his confirmation as secretary of defense.

Mattis and Han spoke over the phone and shared the view that both should "strengthen the counter-capabilities against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats", the MND said in a written statement, citing the potential risk of a DPRK intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch following Kim Jong Un's new year's speech.

Earlier this month, Hwang warned that North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities are accelerating at an "unprecedented" pace, as he called for the "swift" deployment of the anti-missile system. The country's Constitutional Court is now debating her fate.

The remarks are set to anger Pyongyang which has responded to joint US and South Korean military drills and other provocations with a series of atomic and missile tests in the past. Several days later it conducted a successful test of a nuclear warhead, which is believed to be the fifth and largest blast since Pyongyang began pursuing nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The North said at the time that the new tech would "guarantee" an eventual nuclear strike on the US mainland.

"There are no signs of an imminent test firing of an [ICMB] by North Korea", an official at the defense ministry was quoted as saying. He'll be in Seoul on Thursday, and then visit Japan.

This is the first clear commitment Trump has extended to South Korea. "I'm not as confident as I would like to be about that though".

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