(5th LD) Tillerson begins trip to S. Korea amid growing N.K. threats
(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 7-10)
SEOUL, March 17 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson began his two-day trip to South Korea on Friday, which is expected to focus on discussing ways to strengthen the bilateral alliance and fend off the growing threats from North Korea.
Tillerson arrived at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, at about 10:10 a.m. He came from Japan where he held talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others in Tokyo on Thursday.
Right after landing at the airport, Tillerson headed to the Demilitarized Zone on the inter-Korean border, the first major stop of his visit to the ally.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (2nd from L) boards a U.S. Army helicopter bound for the DMZ right after landing at Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, on March 17, 2017. (Yonhap)
While touring the DMZ, he was said to have been briefed at the truce village of Panmunjom and had lunch with troops at Camp Bonifas.
Accompanied by USFK Commander Gen. Vincent K. Brooks and South Korean Army Gen. Lim Ho-young, Tillerson was also said to have walked near the military demarcation line bisecting the two Koreas. Some North Korean soldiers were seen watching the visiting delegation and taking pictures of the secretary.
Tillerson didn't send any message or issue any statement.
During a meeting with Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn later in the day, Tillerson reaffirmed the two countries' "ironclad" security partnership.
"I am here to express and reaffirm the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea which serves as a linchpin for security and stability on the Korean Peninsula," he said.
"I also want to stress the importance of our strong people-to-people ties, growing economic cooperation and, as you mentioned, our strong alliance for security in response to the growing threat from North Korea," he added.
Hwang took over as the acting president in December after then-President Park Geun-hye was impeached over a corruption scandal.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with an official awaiting his arrival from Japan at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek on March 17, 2017. His trip to Korea is the second leg of his three-country Asian tour, which will also take him to China this weekend. (Yonhap)
Tillerson's visit to Korea is part of his three-country Asian tour that will also take him to China this weekend. This marked his first trip of this kind since taking office as top diplomat under the Donald Trump administration.
Tillerson came amid mounting anxiety over additional provocations by the North and deepening friction between South Korea and China over the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).
In particular, the message that the former Exxon Mobil executive will deliver will be closely scrutinized for any hints at how the U.S. government will deal with the North given that Washington is in the final stages of its policy review on Pyongyang.
During a press conference held after meeting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Friday, Tillerson told reporters that U.S. efforts over the past 20 years to denuclearize the North have failed, calling for a "new approach" in dealing with Pyongyang.
The secretary didn't provide details on what the new approach would be but noted that he exchanged views on it with Japan and will do so with his counterparts in South Korea and China. He is to fly to China on Saturday.