US, Japanese agree to continue joint military exercises

Mattis reassures uneasy Japan over U.S.-North Korea talks

By the afternoon, he was standing beside his South Korean counterpart in Seoul, reaffirming a commitment to one of the closest USA allies amid moves to halt North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis pledged Friday to maintain and strengthen the US security alliance with Japan amid fears that talks with North Korea could water down Washington's longstanding security commitments in the region.

In Tokyo, Mattis assured Japan that their military alliance remained firm during negotiations with Pyongyang.

Concern has mounted in the region over the stance of the USA president, who has lauded North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a "talented guy" as he seeks to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

Both Japan and South Korea feel threatened by the North's nuclear tests.

US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speaks during a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart before their meeting in Seoul on June 28, 2018.

Amid concerns over the dramatic warming of relations between Washington and Pyongyang in recent months, Japan's defense minister met with his U.S. counterpart.

Japan's defence establishment was taken aback by the U.S. President Donald Trump's recent decision to halt "expensive" military exercises with South Korea that have always been seen in Tokyo as a deterrent to North Korea's threats.

"We're in the midst of very unprecedented negotiations right now with North Korea but in this dynamic time, the longstanding alliance between Japan and the United States stands firm", insisted the USA defence chief.

The ministry said a considerable number of joint drills will be carried out as scheduled, given that the Song-Mattis meeting focused more on maintaining combat readiness than on the suspension of drills.

On Thursday in Seoul, Mattis, who is on the last stop of a trip to Asia that also included China and South Korea, defended Trump's decision to halt "war games", saying it would help diplomats negotiate. Mattis, for his part, said that he "recognizes" some of the concerns raised by the Japanese side.

The US objective remains CVID for North Korea. US Ambassador William Hagerty hosted family members of Japanese abductees at his residence in Tokyo in April and regularly wears the pin.

"At the same time, we maintain a strong collaborative defensive stance to ensure our diplomats continue to negotiate from a position of unquestioned strength".

Japan, which hosts some 50,000 U.S. military personnel, including the biggest overseas concentration of U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy carrier strike group, relies on Washington for its defence.

Onodera said Mattis agreed to work on the realignment of USA troops in Japan as well as increased safety of aircraft used by American military in the country.

With more than 28,000 USA troops stationed in the South, Mattis said that both nations' forces "remained united, vigilant and ready to defend against any challenge".

In China, Mattis was told that China would not "give up even one inch" of the "territory left by our ancestors" amid a row over disputed islands in the South China Sea.

However, US officials stressed this did not undermine Mattis's effort to rescue the fraying relationship between the two militaries.

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