U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday said North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs pose a global threat, after Pyongyang’s unveiling of previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles at a predawn military parade.
The appearance of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) during a weekend parade in North Korea captivated many Western analysts. But officials in South Korea were far more concerned by the display of new multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and fast, maneuverable short-range missiles that would be ideal for striking targets in the South.
Speaking before the start of a meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook at the Pentagon, Esper said: “We agree that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain a serious threat to the security and stability of the region and the world.”
“The United States remains committed to the security of the Republic of Korea,” Esper said.
He added, however, that South Korea and the United States must find a more equitable way of sharing defense costs so it “doesn’t fall unequally on the American taxpayers.”
U.S. President Donald Trump, who has touted his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has repeatedly said Seoul should pay for a larger share of the cost of U.S. military forces deployed in the South.
Some 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea, in what is seen as a deterrent to Pyongyang that also sends a message to China about U.S. influence and capability in Asia.
Separately, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, citing a lack of ICBM tests by Pyongyang last year, told reporters on Wednesday there was a reduced risk to the United States from North Korea due to Trump’s policy of engagement.
South Korea’s national security advisor Suh Hoon is also in Washington this week for previously unannounced meetings with his U.S. counterpart as well as Pompeo, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in Seoul on Thursday.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Josh Smith in Seoul; Editing by Tom Brown and Michael Perry)