U.S. security adviser Bolton meets South Korean officials, seeks stronger ties

SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. national security adviser John Bolton met with South Korean officials on Wednesday to discuss major bilateral issues amid South Korea’s trade spat with Japan, stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, and a regional air space dispute on Tuesday.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, July 24, 2019. Yonhap via REUTERS

Bolton met South Korea’s chief of National Security Office Chung Eui-yong, Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Seoul to discuss issues including denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and ways to strengthen the South Korea-U.S. alliance.

“I think the main objective we have, and I know that you have, is to emerge with a stronger ROK-US alliance that really has kept the peace in this part of the world for a long time,” Bolton said ahead of his meeting with Kang, using the initials for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea.

In their public remarks, Bolton and Kang mentioned only broad goals on issues like North Korea, but hinted at other areas as well.

Kang thanked Bolton for U.S. leadership beyond the region, “especially in the Strait of Hormuz” in the Middle East.

“I think your leadership trying to keep things stable in that region has been very much appreciated, and we’re fully supportive of that as well,” she said.

The United States has sought to win its allies’ support for an initiative to heighten surveillance of vital Middle East oil shipping lanes and there is speculation Bolton may officially ask for South Korean military contributions.

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Earlier this week South Korean officials said they were considering the issue.

“There are many challenges out there, some in this part of the world, some in other parts of the world, but I’m confident that the ROK and U.S. will work very closely together to resolve them,” Bolton said.

The South Koreans are expected to bring up a trade dispute with U.S. ally Japan, which has restricted exports of high-tech materials to South Korea.

Seoul has said the curbs could hurt global tech companies including Apple which use South Korean semiconductors and displays and has asked the United States to help resolve the dispute.

Japan, which has denied that a dispute over compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese occupiers during World War Two is behind the export curbs, is now considering removing South Korea from a Japanese “white list” of countries with minimum trade restrictions, which would impose tougher conditions.

On Tuesday, South Korean officials said their warplanes had fired hundreds of warning shots near a Russian aircraft that was part of what Moscow said was its first long-range joint air patrol in the Asia-Pacific region with China, sparking a round of diplomatic protests.

The development could complicate relations and raise tension in a region that has for years been overshadowed by hostility between the United States and North Korea.

Denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the United States have stalled after a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam in February broke down.

Bolton met with South Korean opposition Liberty Korea Party’s floor leader Na Kyung-won early Wednesday at her request, Na said.

Na said she told Bolton of “the importance of the South Korea-U.S. alliance” in light of the airspace incident by Russian military aircraft, and said Japan’s export curbs are “not helpful” to the trilateral cooperation between Korea, the U.S. and Japan. She did not mention Bolton’s reply.

Denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the United States have stalled after a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam in February broke down.

Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Michael Perry