- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2019

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday called on South Korea to take part in the U.S.-led effort to protect vessels traveling through the Strait of Hormuz amid soaring tensions with Iran.

Mr. Esper made the request in a meeting between the newly confirmed Pentagon chief and the South Korean defense minister in Seoul, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

In a tweet following the meeting — part of the secretary’s first overseas trip since being confirmed to the top post — Mr. Esper said he is “confident the [U.S.-South Korean] alliance is ironclad.”

Seoul’s National Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said Seoul is considering several options to back the U.S. mission. Britain has said it will contribute but several European allies have proven reluctant to follow the Trump administration’s lead as tensions increase with Iran.

The move came on the heels of Iran claiming that it intercepted a third ship traveling in the Gulf, and just weeks after a British tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping channel in the Gulf, was taken by Iranian forces.

Although South Korea did not fully commit to sending reinforcement, the country’s openness to participation in the mission signals new global support to protect the Strait and counter Iran’s latest moves.

South Korea’s press has reported that the government of President Moon Jae-in has floated the idea of contributing to the Persian Gulf mission as a way to offset President Trump’s demands for larger payments to underwrite the American military mission on the Korean peninsula.

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