Defense chief Mattis in Asia, will discuss North Korea crisis with allies

CLARK FREEPORT ZONE, Philippines (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he would talk with Asian allies about North Korea and the crisis caused by Pyongyang’s “reckless” provocations, as he kicked off a week-long trip to the region on Monday to meet defense chiefs in the Philippines.

Defense Secretary James Mattis delivers remarks to reporters about recent U.S. troops killed in Niger as he welcomes Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his delegation for meetings at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S. October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Mattis’ trip to Asia, which will also include stops in Thailand and South Korea, comes just weeks before President Donald Trump’s first visit to Asia. Trump has been locked in a war of words with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling him a “rocket man” on a suicide mission for openly pursuing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States.

Trump, in a speech last month at the United Nations, threatened to destroy North Korea if necessary to defend the United States and its allies. Kim has blasted Trump as “mentally deranged.”

Mattis, who has emphasized diplomacy, was expected to meet both his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on Monday before meeting with all three of them together. He will attend a meeting from Monday to Wednesday of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, in the Philippines. He will go to Seoul later in the week for more defense talks. “I will talk with my counterparts, discussing the regional security crisis caused by the reckless DPRK North Korea provocations but also discuss our respect for shared values like sovereignty of the states, their territorial integrity, freedom of navigation through historically international waters, and fair and reciprocal trade,” Mattis told reporters.

A U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea last week,…

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