On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence began his trip to Asia, which his aides are saying is a sign of the United States’ “ironclad commitment” to its allies amid concerns that North Korea could conduct its sixth nuclear test.
Pence’s travels will include stops in South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and Australia before stopping in Hawaii upon returning from his trip. He is expected to be in South Korea on Easter Sunday, where he plans to spend the day with American and South Korean troops before attending a meeting with Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on Monday.
He will be landing in Seoul the day following North Korea’s national holiday, known as “Day of the Sun.”
In the hours leading up to Pence’s departure, North Korea showed off its intercontinental ballistic missiles in a military display at the annual parade that honors the birthday of its founding ruler, the grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un.
Reuters reports that the White House has set contingency plans should Pence’s trip to South Korea this weekend coincide with Kim Jong Un launching yet another nuclear test, an official told reporters. “Unfortunately, it’s not a new surprise for us. He continues to develop this program, he continues to launch missiles into the Sea of Japan,” the adviser said.
President Trump has responded to the recent concerns over North Korea with a series of condemning tweets, saying North Korea “is looking for trouble” and telling reporters on Thursday: “North Korea is a problem. The problem will be taken care of.”
North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.
— President Trump (@POTUS) April 11, 2017
Ahead of the highly anticipated trip, a senior administration official told ABC News that Pence aims to “reaffirm” allies that the U.S. has an “ironclad” commitment to the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
His mission, in part, is to reassure allies in South Korea and Japan that the U.S. will defend them against North Korean aggression without acting in a way that could result in open conflict.
“The message, I think, is going to be about vigilance and deterrence,” said Victor Cha, the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said Pence will try to balance reassurance with a willingness to respond if North Korea acts. “The United States wants to project a more muscular image when it comes to the policy so some unpredictability serves that cause.”
A White House foreign policy adviser also stated, “We’re going to consult with the Republic of Korea on North Korea’s efforts to advance its ballistic missile and its nuclear program.”
Before Pence embarked on his 10-day trip, Press Secretary Marc Lotter said during an interview on ABC’s “Powerhouse Politics” podcast: “The most important message from the vice president on behalf of the president is that we have an ironclad commitment to stand with our allies in the region, in their defense.”
Pence also plans to discuss regional security when he makes stops in Japan, Indonesia, and Australia, as well as focus on trade and economic issues during the trip.
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