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US defence chief warns N Korea against attack

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Mattis: Any attack will be met with 'overwhelming response'

TOKYO: Any nuclear attack by North Korea would trigger an "effective and overwhelming" response, US Defence Secretary James Mattis said yesterday, as he sought to reassure Asian allies rattled by President Donald Trump's isolationist rhetoric.

Mr Mattis (right) was speaking in Seoul during the first overseas tour by a senior Trump administration official, as concerns rise over the impact of Mr Trump's policies on Asia.

He flew to Tokyo later in the day for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and is set to hold talks with Japanese defence minister Tomomi Inada today.

South Korea has enjoyed US protection since the 1950-53 Korean War but Mr Trump, while campaigning, had threatened to withdraw US forces from it and Japan if they do not step up their financial support.

Some 28,500 US troops are based in South Korea to defend it against the nuclear-armed North, with 47,000 in Japan.

Pyongyang was continuing to "engage in threatening rhetoric and behaviour", said Mr Mattis.

"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," he said ahead of a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Han Min Koo.

He was in Seoul to "underscore America's priority commitment to our bilateral alliance" and make clear the administration's "full commitment" to defending South Korea's democracy," he said.

Mr Han added that the alliance "reaffirms its firm will and strength to remain unwavering against all challenges and adversaries".

North Korea carried out two atomic tests and a series of missile launches last year, and casts a heavy security shadow over the region.

Leader Kim Jong Un said in his closely-watched New Year speech that Pyongyang was in the "final stages" of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, prompting Mr Trump to tweet: "It won't happen!".

On Thursday, Mr Mattis and South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn agreed to push through with the deployment of a US missile defence system strongly opposed by China.

The two countries confirmed that they will go ahead with the installation of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system in South Korea this year as planned. - AFP

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