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(Yonhap Interview) Alliance stronger due to N. Korea's belligerence: U.S. Pacific Fleet chief

2017/09/05 18:17

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By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Sept. 5 (Yonhap) -- The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet said Tuesday his forces will continue to deploy formidable defense assets to or near the Korean Peninsula in order to show Washington's security commitment here with "actions."

   Adm. Scott Swift stressed that his fleet is responsible for nearly 60 percent of U.S. Navy assets amid the "Third Fleet Forward" initiative. It calls for ships of the San Diego-based fleet to participate in missions in the Western Pacific covered by the Seventh Fleet.

"If there's a desire to have another carrier and there's a desire to have more ships, more submarines, we have the capability and capacity to support that direction," if it's given by senior policymakers, he said in an interview at the U.S. military base in Yongsan, central Seoul.

His remarks reflect the "ironclad" alliance between Seoul and Washington in the face of the North's provocations, most recently a sixth nuclear test on the weekend.

The admiral characterized the North's acts as "self-destructive."

South Korea has requested the regular deployment of such high-profile U.S. assets as flattops, nuclear submarines and long-range bombers to the peninsula.

He pointed out that it's a decision to be made by policymakers and his mission is to get options ready as a commander in charge of around 200 ships and submarines, 1,180 aircraft and more than 140,000 sailors.

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, in a file photo (Yonhap) Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, in a file photo (Yonhap)

He added a "dual-carrier operation" in the region can be an option as well, given the strategic significance of aircraft carriers.

"But proximity, in my mind, is less important as a maritime commander, because what naval forces bring is great flexibility. The (USS Ronald) Reagan is out and about in the Pacific," he said.

He said it's possible to bring the Reagan, which has its home port in Japan, to a strike group in the waters around Korea or let it continue operations under the original planning process.

He dismissed a view that the North Korea risks are out of control, saying there's a broad range of options. Top U.S. government officials have stated that all options are on the table when it comes to dealing with Pyongyang.

"I think the fact that there are still many options that are available to us underscores the fact that it's not out of control," he said. "One is the strength of the alliance."

   The admiral said it's difficult to understand exactly what the North's leader Kim Jong-un wants.

"But if he's trying to separate the alliances and the allegiances that we have in the region, it's having the opposite (effect)," he said.

He likened the time-honored alliance to a family with troubles.

A strong family comes closer together when a family member suffers cancer or financial stress, he noted.

Regarding some media reports of possible rifts between South Korea and the U.S., the commander emphasized that a country-to-country relationship is "multi-dimensional."

   From the military prospective, their relationship remains robust and there's no lack of commitment, he added.

The alliance, forged in blood during the 1950-53 Korean War, has personal meaning to him as well. His father served in the U.S. Navy during the war as did his wife's father who was injured while conducting shore bombardment operations.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) talks with Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Seoul on Sept. 5, 2017, in this photo provided by Song's ministry. (Yonhap) South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) talks with Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Seoul on Sept. 5, 2017, in this photo provided by Song's ministry. (Yonhap)

Swift visited Seoul to attend the International Seapower Symposium hosted by South Korea's Navy.

He had a meeting with Defense Minister Song Young-moo, during which they agreed to take a "substantive military response to the North's provocation, according to Song's ministry.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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