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Esper affirms U.S.-ROK alliance’s importance

Pool photo / AP

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, left, and South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, clasp hands in Seoul on Friday.

ReutersSEOUL (Reuters) — U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with senior South Korean leaders on Friday amid a series of regional challenges ranging from a bitter trade row between Seoul and Tokyo to the cost of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

Esper, on his first international trip since being confirmed as defense secretary, arrived in South Korea on Thursday evening amid an escalating trade feud between two of Washington’s main Asian allies.

While the trade issue, which threatens regional intelligence sharing, came up in his meetings in Seoul, Esper reiterated the importance of the South Korean-U.S. alliance and said the allies would continue to coordinate on North Korea.

In his opening remarks of the meeting with Esper, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said Japan’s export restrictions against South Korea are “causing adverse effects on South Korea-Japan relations and security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan.”

South Korea has said it was exploring all options in a bitter trade dispute with Japan, including scrapping an intelligence sharing pact.

The accord, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), facilitates three-way intelligence gathering with Washington, which is crucial in fending off North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The deal is automatically renewed annually on Aug. 24.

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