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Mattis Reassures S. Korea of 'Ironclad' US Support

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis aboard his official aircraft on the first leg of a trip which will take him to China, South Korea and Japan, June 24, 2018

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reassured South Korea on Thursday that U.S. commitment to its security "remains ironclad."

The comments came as Mattis met with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo in Seoul while negotiators from both countries continue toward the goal of a denuclearized North Korea.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the suspension of military exercises with South Korea after he held a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea had long called for the drills to stop amid fears they were aimed at planning an invasion, which the U.S. and South Korean militaries denied.

Trump's move raised concerns among U.S. allies in the region about the continuing security assistance the United States would provide.

Mattis said Thursday halting the exercises creates a better chance for peace on the Korean peninsula.

But he said the number of U.S. troops stationed there will not change, and that both militaries remain "vigilant and ready to defend against any challenge."

The Pentagon chief travels on to Japan for meetings there with senior officials.

He made an earlier stop in China where he met with President Xi Jinping and raised concerns about militarization and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.