SEOUL, March 18 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Tuesday his government's budget cuts won't affect military readiness in South Korea, as deterrence against North Korea remains a top priority despite fiscal woes.
Carter, who is in Seoul as part of his Asia trip, made the remark as Washington moves to strengthen missile defense by 2017 in response to North Korea's preemptive nuclear strike.
"The commitment to the (S. Korea-U.S.) alliance is part of Asia-Pacific rebalance, and we will ensure all the pieces of our defense relationship will continue to move forward, and this will occur despite the budgetary pressures in the U.S.," Carter said in a press conference at the American Center Korea in Seoul. "The Asia Pacific rebalance is a priority...we have resources to accomplish it."
During the two-day visit, Carter said he had "excellent consultations" with Seoul officials, including ministers of defense, foreign affairs and senior presidential officials, to maintain a strong alliance and steadfast military readiness to deter growing threats from North Korea.
With regards to diplomatic moves to impose additional U.N. Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear test last month, Carter said Washington remains "steadfast in its defense commitment" to South Korea with a strengthened defense system and nuclear umbrella.
"Together we're taking important steps to advance allies' military capabilities," Carter said. "In particular, we remain steadfast to our commitment to extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. We'll ensure all of our resources will be available to our alliance."
The Pentagon's announcement of a plan to add 14 new ground-based missile interceptors by 2017 is part of efforts to show "determination to keep ahead of the progression of the North Korean ballistic missile development," Carter said.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula remain high as Pyongyang has issued daily threats of war and vowed to withdraw from the 1953 Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War while S. Korea-U.S. drills are in full swing.