SEOUL - U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday the U.S. and South Korea share a "vision of a peaceful" Korean Peninsula and declared the two allies would keep collaborating on North Korea and other issues.
On his first international trip since being confirmed last month, Esper addressed the media in Seoul after meeting with South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo amid heightened regional tensions.
Esper said the Washington-Seoul alliance is "ironclad" and the "linchpin of peace and security" in Southeast Asia. He added the two allies would ensure the "readiness of our combined forces to defend ourselves while also creating space for diplomacy."
Washington and Seoul have not always enjoyed the warmest of relations and have not always agreed on how to address the nuclear-armed North. But South Korea is increasing efforts to connect with the U.S. on North Korea, trade and other issues.
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong said his country was the "U.S.' closest ally" and cited recent "urgent developments" in the region.
Jeong said North Korea launching new short-range ballistic missiles amid ongoing efforts to denuclearize the peninsula do not help relieve regional tensions.
Jeong also said Japan's export trade restrictions against South Korea are "causing adverse effects on South Korean-Japan relations and security cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan."
Jeong praised U.S. President Donald Trump's "amazing imagination that transcends conventions" for meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the inter-Korean border on June 30. He also expressed a desire to open "a new chapter" in the U.S.-South Korean alliance based on trust.
During their meeting, Esper asked Jeong to commit troops to a U.S.-led maritime force off the coast of Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
Jeong responded that Seoul was considering options to help protect South Korean people and vessels that use the strait.
While Esper was visiting Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in appointed an experienced former diplomat as his new ambassador to the U.S. Moon tapped 70-year-old Lee Soo-hyuck, who was South Korea's chief negotiator at disarmament negotiations between 2003 and 2005. Lee is also a former deputy foreign minister and first deputy director of the National Intelligence Service.
Esper concluded his visit to South Korea on Friday. His overseas trip also took him to Australia, Mongolia and Japan.