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(News Focus) Trump's foreign policy lineup expected to be supportive of alliance with Seoul, tough on N.K.

2016/12/14 04:05

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President-elect Donald Trump finalized his foreign policy lineup with the selection of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state Tuesday, assembling a team that is expected to be supportive of the alliance with South Korea and tough on North Korea.

Trump went ahead with Tillerson's nomination despite concerns the businessman is too close to Russia, saying his "tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics" as well as good relations with world leaders make him "an excellent choice" for the job.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, nominee for secretary of state Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, nominee for secretary of state

The nomination fills one of the three pillars in the U.S. national security lineup -- secretary of state, secretary of defense and national security adviser. Trump earlier tapped former Defense Intelligence Agency director Mike Flynn as national security advisor and retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as defense secretary.

These top positions could have greater influence under the incoming administrations than in the previous administrations because Trump has little experience in dealing with foreign policy and national security issues and is expected to rely on their advice.

Little is known about Tillerson's foreign policy views, including those on the alliance with South Korea and the growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, except his close relations with Russia that earned him the "Order of Friendship" from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But one of the first things Tillerson said after the nomination was the importance of alliances.

"I am honored by President-elect Trump's nomination and share his vision for restoring the credibility of the United States' foreign relations and advancing our country's national security," Tillerson said in a statement. "We must focus on strengthening our alliances, pursuing shared national interests and enhancing the strength, security and sovereignty of the United States."

   Robert Manning, a senior analyst at the Atlantic Council think tank, told Yonhap News Agency that it is "premature" to draw conclusions about Trump's choice of Tillerson, although his ties to Putin will be areas that Congress will look into in "what promises to be a difficult confirmation hearing."

   "I do expect he will support the U.S.-ROK alliance," Manning said.

Incoming U.S. National Security Advisor Mike Flynn Incoming U.S. National Security Advisor Mike Flynn

Flynn and Mattis are also expected to be strong supporters of the alliance.

During a meeting last month with South Korean Deputy National Security Advisor Cho Tae-yong shortly after his designation as national security advisor, Flynn said the alliance with Seoul is "vital" and must be further strengthened.

Mattis is expected to be no different.

During a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in April, Mattis reportedly said that he was troubled by President Barack Obama's remarks made in a media interview that there were "free riders" accepting U.S. help without reciprocating.

Trump's selections of these pro-alliance aides represent a departure from his campaign rhetoric. On the campaign trail, Trump had expressed deeply negative views of alliances and U.S. security commitments overseas, seeing them as a cumbersome burden sucking up taxpayer dollars.

Having allies pay more for American troops defending them was one of his top campaign pledges.

On North Korea, the incoming security lineup is expected to pursue a tough line.

Flynn said in an interview with Japan's Nihon Keizai newspaper during a visit to Japan in October that the current regime in Pyongyang shouldn't be allowed to last for long, and that he has no intention of cutting an economic deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kathleen McFarland, a security analyst named to be deputy national security advisor, also said on Fox News in August that the U.S. should pressure China to use its leverage over the North while imposing sanctions on companies of third countries for doing business with the North.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KA), named to be CIA director, also reportedly called for mobilizing all economic and military powers to resolve the North Korean nuclear threats when he spoke with the Lars Larson Show after Pyongayng's fourth nuclear test in January.

James Mattis, nominee for secretary of defense James Mattis, nominee for secretary of defense

Mattis, nicknamed "Mad Dog" because of his tough talk and eagerness to fight, is also expected to take a hardline on the North as he has favored a tougher stance against U.S. adversaries. He was particularly hardline on Iran, calling it the "the single most enduring threat" and warning the Iranian nuclear deal won't stop its acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Manning, the Atlantic Council expert, said the North will be a priority issue in the Trump administration "not by choice, but by necessity."

   "There is growing concern in Washington about Pyongyang's growing missile and nuclear capabilities," Manning said. "It is highly probable that during the term of the next administration Kim Jong-un will acquire the capability to hit the U.S. with an ICBM. The US will have to decide whether at that point deterrence still works or that it is an unacceptable risk."