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In combat uniforms, allies' defense chiefs to press N. Korea

CLARK, Philippines -- South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said Monday he and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis plan to use military uniforms for a joint warning message to North Korea this week, when they meet in South Korea for bilateral annual talks.

Song proposed that Mattis wear a Marine Corps combat uniform, instead of a suit, in meeting with the allies' troops on the peninsula together. The Pentagon chief is a retired Marine Corps general.

Song, a former Navy admiral and chief of staff, will be dressed in a Navy combat uniform as well.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) and his American counterpart James Mattis in an image provided by Yonhap News TV. (Yonhap)
South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo (R) and his American counterpart James Mattis in an image provided by Yonhap News TV. (Yonhap)

"I offered that to Secretary of Defense Mattis and he responded positively without hesitation," the minister told reporters during a visit to Clark, the Philippines, for a regional security forum hosted by Southeast Asian countries.

On Monday, Song and Mattis had a bilateral meeting and trilateral talks also involving Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on the margins of the ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus.

Song said such a uniform event will send a highly symbolic but strong message to Pyongyang.

He cited the pivotal role of the allies' marines in the Incheon Landing Operation in September 1950, which turned the tide of the conflict.

The South's Navy is also committed to the defense of the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea. The NLL is a de-facto inter-Korean sea border but the North does not recognize it, making waters around the line a longtime flash point.

Mattis is scheduled to arrive in Seoul early Friday morning and soon after meet with South Korean and US service members, while the heads of the two sides' Joint Chiefs of Staff hold the Military Committee Meeting (MCM).

Based on the results of the MCM, Song and Mattis will have the Security Consultative Meeting on Saturday.

The expansion of the US military's regular deployment of "strategic assets" to Korea will be among the top agenda items at the SCM, according to Song. He would not specify which assets will be dispatched and how often.

"What's more important is to demonstrate the ironclad alliance and reaffirm the US plan to send those assets promptly when they are necessary," the minister pointed out.

On the issue of bringing US "tactical nuclear weapons" back to South Korea, Song said he thinks it's not needed in the current warfare conditions.

For instance, he added, the US has intercontinental ballistic missiles in the state of Montana that can reach Pyongyang in about half an hour. Bomber aircraft and advanced fighter jets stationed in Guam or Japan can be quickly mobilized as well in the event of emergency, plus the option of deploying nuclear-powered submarines, he said.

"As there are virtually no time and space constraints with the development of weapons systems, the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons is not that meaningful," the minister said.

He reaffirmed that the local defense authorities are considering the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines in a bid to counter the North's naval threats.

"We are reviewing various factors. The Navy and the Ministry of National Defense have commissioned related studies on international law and other elements," he said. "I think it's also a matter of our government's will and budget." (Yonhap)