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Defense Secretary James Mattis has said any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would be met with an “effective and overwhelming” response.

He spoke in South Korea, where he had been reaffirming US support, before flying to Tokyo.

James Mattis also reconfirmed plans to deploy a US missile defense system in South Korea later this year.

North Korea’s repeated missile and nuclear tests and aggressive statements continue to alarm and anger the region.

Image source Wikimedia

The US has a considerable military presence in South Korea and Japan, as part of a post-war defense deal. There are just under 28,500 US troops in the country, for which Seoul pays about $900 million annually.

President Donald Trump has previously said he wants both South Korea and Japan to pay more towards maintaining that presence.

According to the Pentagon, James Mattis used his visit to reassure South Korea that the Trump administration “remains steadfast” in its “iron-clad” defense commitments to the region.

Speaking after talks at the defense ministry with his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo, James Mattis told reporters that “any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming”.

North Korea conducted its fifth test of a nuclear device in 2016, and claims it is capable of carrying out a nuclear attack on the US, though experts are still unconvinced its technology has progressed that far.

After visiting South Korea, James Mattis flew to Japan, where there are a further 50,000 US soldiers plus their dependants and support staff in Japan. The US paid about $5.5 billion for its Japanese bases in 2016, with Japan paying a further $4 billion.

Defense secretary James Mattis is visiting South Korea on the first foreign trip by a senior official in the Trump administration.

James Mattis is expected to use the visit to reassure Seoul of continuing US commitment to security deals in the face of threats from North Korea.

While campaigning, Donald Trump accused South Korea and Japan of not paying enough for US military support.

Donald Trump also suggested they could be allowed to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.

Both Japan and South Korea rejected this idea.

Image source Wikimedia

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump also said he was willing to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, contradicting longstanding US, South Korean and Japanese policy.

James Mattis will be in South Korea until February 3, and will hold talks with his Korean counterpart, Han Min-koo, among other officials.

The Pentagon said the visit would “underscore the commitment of the United States to our enduring alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and further strengthen US-Japan-Republic of Korea security cooperation”.

James Mattis told reporters he would discuss the planned deployment of a US missile defence system in South Korea, and North Korea’s nuclear program.

His visit comes amid increasing threats from North Korea that it is ready to test-fire a new intercontinental ballistic missile at any time.

Under the Obama administration, the US and South Korea agreed to the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to defend the South from North Korean missiles.

However, the move has angered China, which says it threatens its own security and goes “far beyond the defense needs of the Korean peninsula”.

There are just under 28,500 US military personnel based in South Korea, as part of a post-war arrangement. South Korea pays about $900 million annually towards the deployment.

On February 3, James Mattis will travel to Japan, for talks with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.

There are a further 50,000 soldiers plus their dependents and support staff in Japan. The US pays about $5.5 billion for its Japanese bases in 2016, with Japan paying a further $4 billion.