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(LEAD) Flynn calls Korea-U.S. relations 'vital alliance'

2016/11/19 11:56

(ATTN: UPDATES with details, background; EDITS throughout)

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 (Yonhap) -- Mike Flynn, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick for national security advisor, told a delegation of South Korean officials Friday that relations between the two countries are a "vital alliance" and should be further strengthened, an official said.

Flynn also told the delegation, led by South Korea's deputy National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong, that the incoming U.S. administration will tackle the North Korean nuclear issue as a top priority while working closely with the South, Cho told reporters.

"He characterized the Korea-U.S. alliance as a vital alliance, and the basis of the alliance should continue to be strengthened," Cho said of the one-hour meeting with Flynn that took place after Trump named him to be his first national security advisor.

Flynn's remarks could allay concern about possible negative effects on the alliance under Trump.

Trump's election had raised questions about the fate of the alliance, as he has expressed deeply negative views of U.S. security commitments overseas as well as a willingness to withdraw 28,500 American troops from the South unless Seoul pays more for them.

His victory also threw into doubt the fate of the free trade agreement between the two countries, a pact that Trump has denounced as a "job-killing" deal and a "disaster," amid concerns that he could seek a renegotiation of the agreement that has been in effect since 2012.

Since his election, however, Trump has shown signs of retreat from his campaign rhetoric.

In a phone call with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Trump made a series of remarks reaffirming the alliance, such as, "We are with you all the way and will not waver" and "We will be steadfast and strong with respect to working with you to protect against the instability in North Korea."

   Cho's delegation has been on a visit to the U.S. on a mission to make sure the alliance remains firm under the incoming administration. The team also included Seoul's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Hong-kyun, as well as deputy trade minister Lee In-ho.

Cho declined to discuss further details about the meeting with Flynn.

"Discussions were focused on the importance of the alliance as well as the basic spirit of the Trump administration that it will move solidly ahead with the alliance," the official said.

On North Korea, Flynn pointed out that threats from the communist nation have become worse due to the pursuit of its nuclear and missile programs, and the threats will be dealt with as a top priority, according to Cho.

Cho said the meeting didn't include discussions on defense cost-sharing between the two countries, reduction of U.S. troops, the planned deployment of the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea or bilateral military intelligence sharing between South Korea and Japan.

Cho also said that no specific discussions took place on a possible summit between Trump and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, though American officials said it's important for the leaders of the two countries to hold a meeting.

In addition to Flynn, the delegation also held meetings with former Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner, a senior adviser to the Trump transition team; Walid Phares, a foreign policy adviser for Trump, as well as former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, a candidate for secretary of state.

"Through this visit, we were able to promote the incoming government's understanding of the key policies of our government, and the two sides shared an understanding that maintaining a solid alliance is more important than anything else," Cho said.

Cho said his delegation also explained to American officials that the free trade agreement between the two countries has been a "win-win" agreement, as it has been mutually beneficial to both countries since it went into force in 2012.

jschang@yna.co.kr

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