US defense chief discusses N. Korea in Seoul visit

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper clasps hands with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo during their meeting in Seoul. (Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2019

US defense chief discusses N. Korea in Seoul visit

  • US ‘remains resolute in enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions’

SEOUL: The new defense chief of the US held talks with South Korean diplomatic and military representatives on Friday to discuss North Korea and cost-sharing for the armed forces.

The visit by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper came after North Korea test-fired several short-range ballistic missiles and multiple-launch guided rockets toward the waters off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks, an apparent move to defy US-South Korean joint military exercises that began on Aug. 5.
In a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper made it clear that international sanctions against the North would remain intact before the communist state ended all of its nuclear weapons programs as agreed by the leaders of the US and North Korea in Singapore last year.
“(The US) will remain resolute in the enforcement of the UN Security Council resolutions until the North engages in the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Esper, sworn in as the US defense chief on July 23, said at the start of talks with Jeong at Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense.
“As President Trump has made clear, the US is willing to engage diplomatically with North Korea to make progress on all commitments made in the Singapore joint statement for diplomacy,” the former defense industry lobbyist said.
Denuclearization talks have stalled after the Hanoi summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un collapsed in February.
The leaders held a surprise meeting in June at the truce village of Panmunjom within the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas when the US commander-in-chief was visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul.
At the time, Trump and Kim agreed to resume working-level negotiations within a month, but the disarmament talks have yet to take place.
Instead, Pyongyang has fired newly developed missiles and rockets three times in less than two weeks, from July 25 to Aug. 2.
The projectiles have been confirmed to be short-range ballistic missiles similar to Russia’s Iskander, and a larger-caliber tactical guided multiple-launch rocket system.
Both are believed to be capable of hitting targets across the South, including US military bases and an air base of F-35 stealth fighter jets for the South Korean Air Force.
Trump, however, has played down the significance of the missile and rocket launches.
“The missiles tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement, nor was the discussion of short-range missiles when we shook hands,” Trump tweeted following the Aug. 2 test-firing of two Iskander-class missiles designed to penetrate the missile defense shield in the South.

BACKGROUND

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he has received a ‘very beautiful letter’ on Thursday from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and added that he could have another meeting with him.

Esper described the alliance of the US and South Korea as “ironclad,” calling it “the linchpin of peace and security” in Northeast Asia as well as on the peninsula.
Minister Jeong underlined the importance of the alliance at a time when South Korea was dealing with difficulties including the simmering feud with Japan, which has restricted high-tech chip-making materials to South Korea amid a diplomatic confrontation over compensation for South Korean forced workers during Japan’s colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.
In retaliation, South Korea is considering severing a military information agreement with Japan, part of the trilateral alliance of the US, South Korea and Japan. 
“I hope South Korean and the US defense authorities continue to cooperate closely to overcome such difficulties while maintaining the strong combined defense posture,” the minister said.
Esper’s visit also coincides with Trump administration pressure over sharing the costs of keeping 28,500 American troops in South Korea.
“South Korea has agreed to pay substantially more money to the United States in order to defend itself from North Korea,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post on Wednesday. “South Korea is a very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense provided by the United States of America.”
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has denied the defense cost-sharing talks have started officially, but said that negotiations would proceed “in a reasonable and fair manner.”
This year, South Korea will contribute $924 million, an 8.2 percent rise from the previous year, to cover more than 50 percent of the costs of maintaining US forces there. Funds are mainly used to construct military facilities for US soldiers and pay for the salaries of South Korean civilians hired in US bases. The remainder is covered by the US government to pay for the salaries of American servicemen and women and costs for the deployment of weapons systems during training exercises.
At the order of Trump, White House national security adviser, John Bolton, is said to have asked Seoul to significantly ramp up its contribution to costs to $5 billion during his meeting with South Korean officials last month, according to diplomatic sources.  
“There was no mention by Secretary Esper regarding the sharing of the defense costs,” a foreign ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity after Esper met South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa earlier in the day.
“Esper and Kang discussed their shared interests in a free and open Indo-Pacific.”


India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

Updated 26 January 2020

India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

  • Schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indians converged on a ceremonial boulevard in the capital amid tight security to celebrate the Republic Day on Sunday, which marks the 1950 anniversary of the country’s democratic constitution.
During the celebrations, schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route, followed by a military hardware display.
Beyond the show of military power, the parade also included ornate floats highlighting India’s cultural diversity as men, women and children in colorful dresses performed traditional dances, drawing applause from the spectators.
The 90-minute event, broadcast live, was watched by millions of Indians on their television sets across the country.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro was the chief guest for this year’s celebrations.
He was accorded the ceremonial Guard of Honor by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the sprawling presidential palace.
Bolsonaro joined the two Indian leaders as the military parade marched through a central avenue near the Presidential Palace.
At the parade, Bolsonaro watched keenly as mechanized columns of Indian tanks, rocket launchers, locally made nuclear-capable missile systems and other hardware rolled down the parade route and air force jets sped by overhead.
Apart from attending the Republic Day celebrations, Bolsonaro’s visit was also aimed at strengthening trade and investment ties across a range of fields between the two countries.
On Saturday, Modi and Bolsonaro reached an agreement to promote investment in each other’s country.
Before the parade, Modi paid homage to fallen soldiers at the newly built National War Memorial in New Delhi as the national capital was put under tight security cover.
Smaller parades were also held in the state capitals.
Police said five grenades were lobbed in the eastern Assam state by separatist militants who have routinely boycotted the Republic Day celebrations. No one was injured, police said.
Sunday’s blasts also come at a time when Assam has been witnessing continuous protests against the new citizenship law that have spread to many Indian states.
The law approved in December provides a fast-track to naturalization for persecuted religious minorities from some neighboring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims.
Nationwide protests have brought tens of thousands of people from different faiths and backgrounds together, in part because the law is seen by critics as part of a larger threat to the secular fabric of Indian society.