USA defense chief to visit S. Korea for annual talks

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo in an undated file

The allies will be meeting as tensions have reached new levels with North Korea's test-firing of long-range ballistic missiles and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, held in September.

Southeast Asian defence ministers on Monday expressed "grave concern" over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes and urged the reclusive country to meet its global obligations and resume communications.

In her first foreign visit as defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman will travel to the Philippines on Monday to attend a Southeast Asian defence ministers' meeting which is likely to review the regional security architecture including China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. They are meeting in Clark, a former U.S. military base north of Manila.

The Pentagon said Mattis embarked on his trip Saturday to "re-affirm the enduring US commitment to the Asia-Pacific".

The secretary concludes his trip with a visit to South Korea to co-chair the 49th annual Security Consultative Meeting with his South Korean counterpart Defense Minister Song Young-moo, defense officials said.

They also vowed to work together to combat terrorism as they condemned the attack by the Maute militant group in the southern Philippine city of Marawi.

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