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Mattis to visit South Korea next week

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U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis will visit South Korea next week on his first trip since taking office to underscore the U.S. commitment to the alliance between two countries, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

The trip, which is set to begin on Feb. 1 and also includes a stop in Japan, comes as tensions are running high after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said the communist nation is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile apparently capable of reaching the U.S.

Mattis, expected to arrive in Seoul on Feb. 2, will meet with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo and other senior officials, the Pentagon said. Their discussions are expected to focus on ways to cope with North Korean threats and further strengthen the alliance.

On Feb. 3, Mattis will visit Japan for talks with his counterpart, Tomomi Inada.

“The trip will underscore the commitment of the United States to our enduring alliances with Japan and the Republic of Korea, and further strengthen U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea security cooperation,” the Pentagon said.

It is Mattis’ first overseas trip since he took office. That underscores the seriousness and urgency the retired general takes the threats from North Korea as well as the importance of the alliances with South Korea and Japan in dealing with the provocative regime.

During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Mattis said the North’s nuclear and missile development is “a serious threat and we’ve got to do something about it.” Asked if “necessary force should be on the table” to deal with the threat, Mattis said, “I don’t think we should take anything off the table.”

Mattis, 66, retired in 2013 after serving 44 years in the military. Nicknamed “Mad Dog” because of his tough talk and eagerness to fight, he is considered something of a legendary figure and is well respected not only in the but also throughout the U.S. military.

He is a strong advocate of alliances.

In a message to Pentagon employees shortly after his confirmation, Mattis vowed to work closely with the State Department to strengthen our alliances, saying he recognizes “no nation is secure without friends.”

During his confirmation hearing last week, Mattis also said the U.S. is “stronger when we uphold our treaty obligations” and he will try not only to uphold existing alliances, but create new alliances as well.

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