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US defence chief heads to Seoul as North Korea rattles sabre with weapons tests


US defence chief heads to Seoul as North Korea rattles sabre with weapons tests

mark esper south korea

On the third stop of his tour of the Indo Pacific, US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper will meet with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo in Seoul today.

Discussions are likely to focus on issues relating to tensions with North Korea, in particular the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, a permanent peace settlement with Pyongyang and the planned transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul.

Mr Esper’s trip, which coincides with an annual US-South Korea military exercise, has already invited reaction from North Korea. Pyongyang conducted two tests of a new rocket artillery system on Monday, and launched short-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on July 25—both are believed to be a response to the joint military exercises. The North also has suggested it might call off its unilateral suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Pyongyang insists that, although downsized, the South’s military drills violate the Singapore agreement struck between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump in June last year. But the North’s recent weapons tests have further dampened the chances of nuclear talks with the US, which have been at a standstill since the collapse of the second Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam in February. Unless progress is made on nuclear negotiations, or sanctions against the North, then weapons displays could intensify in the coming months.

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