Mattis: North Korea isn’t driving a wedge between US and South Korea
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Sunday quashed concerns that a recent rapprochement between North and South Korea was driving a wedge between the U.S. and its ally.
“I know that people are watching for a wedge between South Korea, Republic of Korea, in other words, and the United States. There’s no wedge there,” Mattis told reporters aboard a plane flying to Rome.
The Defense secretary went on to say that Song Young-moo, the South Korean minister of defense, told him in a face-to-face conversation that there was no “gap” between the U.S. and South Korea.
“So in a political level in Seoul, there is no — no wedge that can be driven between us by North Korea,” Mattis said.
North and South Korea have made significant overtures in recent weeks in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, with the two countries holding the first high-level talks in years to facilitate Pyongyang’s participation in the event.
The lull in tensions between the two countries has led some observers, including South Korea’s former vice foreign minister, to speculate that North Korea is attempting to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.
The rapprochement has also raised hopes for a significant deescalation to the conflict, including the possibility of negotiations between the two sides.
Mattis, however, said it was too soon to say if recent developments would lead to a change.
“Clearly it’s too early to say if this — this — that if using the Olympics as a … way to reduce tension, if that’s going to have any traction once the Olympics are over. We can’t say right now,” he told reporters.
Vice President Pence in a new interview published on Sunday said the Trump administration was open to talking with North Korea without preconditions.
“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” he told The Washington Post. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”