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(LEAD) Pentagon official says U.S. budget cut won't affect readiness in S. Korea
By Kim Eun-jung
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 is on the second leg of a four-nation Asia tour including Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia after many in the region have raised concerns about U.S. security remaining on track despite its drastic budget cuts.

   "The commitment to the (S. Korea-U.S.) alliance is part of the 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.
Carter stressed that ongoing military drills between the two nations are aimed at improving military readiness against North Korea, particularly mentioning flight training involving B-52s, which is slated for Tuesday.

   "I should note the presences of strategic bombers taking place in flight training in the Korean peninsula area in particular, for example, but this is routine. But there will be B-52 flights tomorrow," Carter told reporters.

   The iconic bomber of the Cold War, which made its debut flight in 1952, is still on mission to counter any potential nuclear attacks.

   The Key Resolve exercise, which is held from March 11-21, involves about 10,000 Korean troops and 3,500 American personnel, along with military equipment and weapons, including F-22 stealth fighter jets deployed from overseas U.S. bases. But U.S. military officials rarely disclose what kind of military equipment is used in drills.

   As part of strengthening the missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula, Carter said Seoul, Washington and other allies in the region are increasingly integrating their missile defense system during their joint drills.

   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.

   When asked whether the U.S. government has any plan to ask Seoul to raise its burden sharing for 28,500 American troops stationed in the South in light of the sequester, Carter said Washington has not made any request and dismissed concerns over possible defense cuts in the Asia Pacific region.

   After meetings with ministers, Carter visited a U.S. Army base with Gen. James Thurman, the commander of Combined Forces Command, to observe ongoing computer-simulated exercise and solace service members.

   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.